Our recent research into what it takes to achieve and sustain a balanced board (one that is both representative and competent), uncovered 11 conditions that, if left unaddressed, can predict serious consequences for the organization. They are presented below in no particular order since their relative significance to each other will differ from organization to organization.
- Board time is not focused on strategy, policy, and oversight. (Discussion is opinion rich and information poor and is about reports describing work that has already been done.)
- A disproportionate number of politicians on the board. (These Board members tend to disengage because they’re primarily interested in the credential and connections – not the real work of an engaged board.)
- The executive is focused on growing the association as a business rather than as a community of shared interests. (Size of membership and treasury are the measures of success rather than increased value.)
- There is no shared vision of the future. (Goals and objectives address increasing the capacity and output of the organization rather than “how the world of the member or mission will be different in a better way” as a result of the organization’s work.)
- Organizational energy is being consumed by continuous disputes over who has what power. (Distribution of power within the organization is prioritized over the value of what is coming out of it.)
- Board members do not exhibit, nor are they selected for, sensitivity to the characteristics of an effective member of a policy making body. (Thinking, communication, group process skills and the ability to contribute to a collaborative decision process are not given due consideration in composing leadership groups.)
- There is no consultative partnership between board and staff. An adversarial dynamic is considered the best way to protect member interests from staff self-interests and member money from staff abuse. (The board and staff are often insulated from each other by a CEO who is the sole point of interaction with the board.)
- There is no nominating committee, or there is one but it does not vet candidates for the board or officer positions to achieve balance on the board between representativeness and competence. (Incompetence and discourtesy is tolerated and “bullies” are not confronted.)
- The processes by which a board governs (strategy, policy, and resource allocation) are non-existent, atrophied, or ignored.
- The CEO is an industry expert who competes with the board as to who’s vision of the future is the most appropriate for the industry or profession.
- The board process lacks opportunity for periodic discussion of levels of accomplishment so that the failure to perform or concerns about style or approach are not addressed in a timely fashion.
We also note that the dispute over constituency vs. competency based boards is ancient. It’s the modern version of the classic argument between Aristotle and Plato over the relative merits of the philosopher king vs. democracy.
There is no evidence and no research demonstrating that appointed boards or uncontested elections produce more effective boards than contested elections and elected boards. In fact, our research, affirms research conducted by School Boards associations in the 70’s, research reports published by HBR from the 80’s to today, and other governance focused organizations that finds that the work processes used by boards and the personal attributes of its members are the variables that correlate to Board effectiveness. No selection process has ever been identified as a “best practice” that works the best everywhere all the time.
The supposed forced choice between constituency-based and competency-based boards in associations is a false dichotomy. There is evidence that the most effective boards – defined as governing an association that accomplish goals and objectives focused on value to members over time – are most effective when they are perceived by key stakeholders as being both representative and competent.