Monday, July 7, 2014

Does Your Board Act as Your Innovation Committee?

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I found this post of the Harvard Business Review blog thought-provoking. It advocates for corporate boards to serve as a kind of innovation committee for the corporations they are put in place to safeguard. In one example, the post talks about the movement as it is afoot at Diebold, a manufacturer of ATMs and security systems. conducting its annual self-evaluation, the board found that a number of its directors had recommended that a board committee be created to work explicitly with the new CEO on technology and innovation — not to manage it, but to partner with management on it. With the concurrence of the new CEO, the directors created a Technology Strategy and Innovation committee with a full-blown charter requiring its directors to “provide management with a sounding-board,” serve as a “source of external perspective,” evaluate “management proposals for strategic technology investments,” and work with management on its “overall technology and innovation strategy.”

It seems like a good idea to me, assuming the members of the board committee remember to stay out of the weeds and embrace their roles as strategic advisors. In the world of associations, it may make even more sense, since the members of the board are almost always members of the association itself--a subset of the very stakeholder group the association has been organized to serve.

At my own association, we do something similar. Each of our board members serve on something we call strategic task forces--volunteer bodies formed around our areas of core strategic priority with the stated purpose of defining what success looks like and monitoring the organization's progress towards those goals. Ideas for innovative programs and activities are often first launched there, either from the brainstorming the board members do themselves or in their assessment of new ideas I and my staff bring to the table.

As the HBR post suggests, one of the things that makes this work is that the task forces have no decision-making authority. By splitting the board into three such groups, no one task force represents a quorum of the board. Whatever decisions they make must be either offered as advisory to the CEO if they are in the management realm, or brought as a recommendation for action to the full board if they are in the realm of governance.

It's taken a few years to establish this process and for everyone to understand their role, but now that is in place we find it very useful and effective.

Do you do anything like this with your board? Do you ever engage with its members in ways that take them out of their formal role as fiduciary stewards of the organization? It can be sometimes be challenging to change the rules of engagement, but if your board is anything like mine, you will want to engage their intellects and passions in ways that help your association innovate.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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