What we are learning

Reflection on Episode 7: Why Mission Matters

The book Start with Why by Simon Sinek is a convincing read for anyone wondering about the importance and power of a clear purpose and mission for an organization. One quote that summarizes Sinek’s findings is, “all organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.” This was a quote that I had in mind when we had a chance to sit down with Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, CEO and President of St. Joseph’s Health Care. I’ve met many people who worked at St. Joseph’s and one thing that is consistent is the strong sense of mission that each employee feels when they show up to work each day. It is remarkable that an organization as large as St. Joseph’s and with as diverse a workforce can still animate mission and purpose for everyone.

We got a chance to speak with Dr. Kernaghan and ask her about the role of the Board in keeping mission at the forefront of everything they do. She offered lots of great examples for how the organization does that and how the Board regularly talks about mission (you can check out the podcast for more of that). One of the tips that stuck with me was to include a question for reflection on the agenda for the end of each meeting – how did our meeting, our discussion, and our decisions serve our stakeholders and further our mission?

Once mission is firmly entrenched in Board discussions, it trickles down through the rest of the organization. Dr. Kernaghan described it as a cascade that starts at the top and works its way through senior management and then throughout the rest of the stakeholders. If mission, vision, and purpose are not firmly planted then you cannot expect to harvest any fruit from your work. Think of it like this tree:

Vision, mission, purpose is the root of what you are trying to do. It needs to inform the Board and must shape the conversations and decisions that the Board makes so that the organization can stay on task and meet its mandate. There needs to be alignment starting at the roots all the way through to the “fruit” – the outcome of your work. Feeding and nurturing the roots is the first step to making sure your organization has the potential to be healthy, productive, and purposeful. It is an awesome responsibility and we are grateful for leaders like Dr. Kernaghan who are showing us the way to keep governance grounded in what is most important.

About Paul and Andrew

Who are Paul Wilton and Andrew Jardine?

Paul is an experienced not-for-profit Board member who has served on Boards at the local, provincial, and national level. He has been the Chair of the Ontario Hemophilia Society and currently is the Chair of the Canadian Hemophilia Society. Paul was born and raised in London, Ontario and attended King’s University College at Western University where he earned a BA in Honors Political Science. After that, he went on to complete a Bachelors of Education at Western, a Masters in Public Administration, and is currently enrolled in a PhD in Higher Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. He has been an active member of his community and in 2012 he was recognized by his alma mater as the Young Alumni of the Year. At his high school Paul won “Student of the year” although there are claims that he stuffed the ballots. He currently is the Senior Liaison Officer for King’s University College and is responsible for recruitment strategies for enrolling students both domestic and international. Paul lives with his partner and three dogs near London, Ontario.

Andrew is the Secretary to the Board of Directors and Executive Assistant to the Principal at King’s University College. As Board Secretary, he advises management and the Board about policy, process, and governance principles. He serves his local parish as the Chair of the Pastoral Council and was appointed to a Diocesan Commission to implement a new organizational structure by the Bishop of London in 2018. He was born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and immigrated to London, Ontario in 1999. Andrew attended King’s University College where he completed a BA in Honors Philosophy. He later went on to Wilfrid Laurier University and finished an MBA in 2011. He is currently enrolled in the Chartered Director Program at the Director’s College, a program offered through McMaster University and the Conference Board of Canada. In 1997 Andrew was the skip of the curling team that won the Mary Bruce Memorial Bonspiel at Bally Haly Country Club in St. John’s. He even got a plaque with his name on it. Andrew currently lives in London with his wife, a puppy named Penny, and six children.

Why Governance Guys

Paul and Andrew have a mutual love of/obsession with governance. Yes, it’s a bit odd. But it’s also given them lots to talk about and ponder over. They are both experienced on Boards and have even gone on for advanced education in governance. They are truly governance geeks.

After many, many conversations over a coffee or tea about hot topics for Boards and conundrums they were facing in their work, back in February 2020 (what feels like about a thousand years before the Covid19 pandemic) Paul and Andrew sat down and quantified how much more they needed to learn about governance. It turned out to be a huge amount. Not only that but they also discovered that other people who were either on Boards or who were interested in joining a Board also had a long list of questions about governance. As a result, Paul and Andrew set out to find a proper medium through which they could investigate the art and science of governance and unveil its glorious mysteries to anyone looking to serve an organization or a community. The result, for better or for worse, is The Governance Guys.

The Governance Guys seeks to explore the art and science of governance. Good governance relies on the combination of technical knowledge with soft skills.  The meaning and purpose of governance principles and practices come alive when applied expertise meets the delicate and exciting dance of human interactions.

Our goal is to bring to you the voices of experts in the field to discuss all aspects of governance so that you can perform your role at a high level the next time you take your seat at the boardroom table. To further advance this goal, we will rely on you to offer your feedback, your questions, your criticisms, and your experience so that together we can positively impact our organizations and our communities. Thank you for joining us.

Episode 7: Why mission matters – with Dr. Gillian Kernaghan

Dr. Gillian Kernaghan is the President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Care London and she has been able to animate the mission of St. Joseph’s at every level of the organization. In addition to her role at St. Joseph’s, she is the Chair of the Catholic Hospital Association of Ontario. Listen in as she discusses the role that the Board plays in determining, protecting, and promoting mission as well as tips for making sure your organization remains focused on its purpose, its “why”.

More background on Dr. Kernaghan is available here: https://www.sjhc.london.on.ca/about-us/about-st-josephs-health-care-london/leadership-team

Reflections on Episode 6: Board work during a pandemic – what to do when there is no playbook

A Board’s role does not change in a crisis. The dual role of the Board to protect and direct (as Jim Brown writes in The Imperfect Board Member), remains in place whether your Board is on a summer break when times are great or when you are wrestling with the chaos of a global pandemic.

That being said, the intensity of the level of change in the external environment will require a Board to increase the level of attention they are paying to how the organization is faring. Plans for reopening for the year ahead not only need some consideration from the Board but those plans will benefit from the scrutiny of the people around the table. When businesses, schools, and offices were closed back in the spring, the next step was not to simply pop open the binder marked “What to do in a global pandemic when everyone is required to stay at home for several months and no one knows what is going to happen from day to day.” There is no step by step playbook that is guiding our organizations. There is, however, the Board and a dedicated staff who will put the best interests of the organization at the forefront of their decisions and who are armed with their set of questions to keep everything on track. Board members need to be mindful that their CEO will be likely dealing with frequent stressful situations while s/he is trying to make decisions “in the weeds”. As a result of the demand for the CEO to be looking inward right now, there is a heightened need for the Board to stay focused outward , with the mission and purpose of the whole organization as the primary lens.

In 2019, the Florida State University football team stopped using a conventional playbook for their season. Typically a team will have a thick binder of plays from which they will draw during a game so getting rid of a playbook was pretty radical. Here’s what one of the players said about the strategy:

Not having a playbook means that the players have to know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing at all times.

That means a lot of repetition. It also means a lot of time in the film room.

“We have to watch so much film and you have to stay around your coaches in learning so much because we don’t have a playbook,” Terry said. 

“You have to be around and we have to stay focused and embodying and what you have going on because with no playbook, I can’t say it’s harder but it’s so simple we have to just stay focused and buy in.” (https://www.tallahassee.com/story/sports/college/fsu/football/2019/07/19/florida-state-buying-kendal-briles-no-playbook-offense-willie-taggart-james-blackman/1728926001/)\

I think there are some lessons for Board members here. In this time of uncertainty and in the absence of a “playbook”, be clear about your role, spend extra time understanding the challenges facing the organization, be prepared to ask tough questions, be supportive of each other and your CEO, and stay focused on the horizon and the mission.

Episode 5: The Imperfect Board Member

“Pobody’s Nerfect” says a popular bumper sticker; apply that wisdom to how we govern. The beauty of boards is that none of us has absolute knowledge, so we rely on each other to balance and complete our ideas. Recognizing our limitations is critical to building an effective board culture.

This week Jim Brown who wrote The Imperfect Board Member joined us for a conversation to build on our earlier episodes about the board’s role. The Imperfect board member follows David a corporate CEO who struggles in his interactions with his company’s board. Additionally, David recently joined a community organization’s board hoping to offer his skills to improve his neighbourhood. The book follows David’s governance challenges as a new friend Trevor offers insights on how David can be a better CEO and board member.

A key takeaway from the book is to avoid being a lone ranger. As a corporate executive, David has built his career on his ability to get things done. Frustration is his corporate role leads David to charge ahead with planning an initiative for his community organization. After hours of preparation, David presents his plans to his community organization only to find the reception is not what he expected. Trevor helps David understand that he got out ahead of the rest of the team. The community board had not prioritized the issue David was trying to address and did not expect his presentation. Plus, David started putting in place a concrete plan before the board had an opportunity to discuss options. Trevor quips “recommendations are decisions in disguise”. It is essential to ensure there is board buy-in and approval for major new initiatives.

Andrew and I have discussed whether David or Trevor are based on Jim. At first, we thought that Jim was David, a highly competent executive who had learned through trial and error how to govern. After speaking with Jim, based on his kindness, generosity with his time and clear way of explaining governance we think he may be Trevor. Perhaps like Soloveitchik’s (1965) Adam I and Adam II, all board members have a little bit of a struggle between David and Trevor within us that we need to manage.

Episode 6: Guidance for Boards during a global pandemic

After reviewing listener feedback and questions, it is clear that a common concern is on the minds of lots of Board members right now. How involved should a Board be in their organization during the unpredictability of a global pandemic? Paul and Andrew invite back governance consultant Fred Galloway to answer a listener question and dive a little deeper into this important topic.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-governance-guys/id1506642067

Listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7aDea06cFGCXdQTiONHaTM

Listen on Google Play: https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVnb3Zlcm5hbmNlZ3V5cy5jb20vY2F0ZWdvcnkvZ292ZXJuYW5jZS9mZWVkLw%3D%3D

Episode 5: The Imperfect Board Member with Jim Brown

Jim Brown, author of The Imperfect Board Member sits down with Paul and Andrew to discuss why he thinks Boards are important, what Board members can do to step up their game, and how seven disciplines can move us towards governance excellence.
Jim’s book is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B008N9J50G/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 , his podcast is called “OrgHealth” – https://www.orghealth.coach/podcast and you can check out his leadership and governance development company “Strive” by visiting: https://www.strive.com/

Episode 4: Role of the Individual Board Member

This episode gave us a chance to muse together about the importance of having a clear understanding of the role of the individual Board member. Here are some more thoughts we had “offline” that we wanted to share.

Let’s think of an organization as a ship.  A ship has a defined structure, a clear purpose (moving people/things from A to B), and a crew with a variety of roles and responsibilities. It has to use the external elements (ocean, weather) but also in some cases struggle against them to complete its mission. It’s easy to imagine the various crew members as staff members and the Captain and their team as the fearless leaders turning the ship and charting the course. Where, though, does the Board fit in?

In an organization, the Board is supposed to set direction and monitor progress. The Board should have a keen awareness of the external environment to measure how close the organization is to fulfilling its purpose and mission and to consider outside challenges and threats. The Board should be both a resource for the CEO and a team of critical questioners to constructively challenge decisions and keep things on track.

The individual Board member, therefore, finds themselves in an important position on our ship above. While the crew and Captain are undertaking their important tasks and maintaining the ship, the Board member keeps their eyes focused forward. Consider the sextant, an old tool used by sailors to locate the ship as they cut through the middle of the ocean. The sextant is effective because from your ship you could observe the location of the stars, sun, moon and then compare those to the horizon. As you carefully record your measurements, you can make sure you are still on track and ask for adjustments from the Captain accordingly.

Now consider what we said about the Board above. A Board member needs to contribute to setting direction, monitoring progress, and understanding the external environment and how it may impact the organization.  Each time you review a report, join a meeting, and reflect on your role as a Board member, consider yourself as the person on the ship using the sextant to look out ahead and monitor whether or not you are still headed to your destination and, ultimately, fulfilling your purpose.

Image credit: Bernie Bernard TDI-Brooks International, Inc.

(For more details on the sextant, check out: https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/science-technology/navigator-s-sextant)