Monday, July 3, 2017

Sharing Results from the Board Meeting

Those of you who are chief staff executives of associations, I have a question for you. Each time you come back to the office after one of your Board meetings, what do you tell your staff about what happened at the Board table?

Let me guess. Only what they need to know.

I used to feel the same way. At my Board meetings, there are typically so many different kinds of conversations -- not so many different conversations, so many different kinds of conversations -- that it's often hard to know where to begin.

There are, of course, the action items. Those are the easy ones. The Board voted on this or that issue and here is how the vote came out. But beyond that there are all the different kinds of conversations that swirl around or amidst the action items. I look at these as a kind of running commentary -- on programs, on performance, on strategic intent -- all three of them frequently blurring together into a continuous stream of ideas, suggestions, and direction.

How many of those do you share?

As it turns out in my case, very few. We for some time now have been working with our Board to more clearly define the line between governance and management. The Board handles governance -- which we have come to understand as defining the expected outcomes, or ends, of the organization. And I, as the chief staff executive, handles management -- which we have come to understand as defining the methods, or means, for how those outcomes are going to be achieved.

Board-level discussion then, when placed on this footing, is focused almost entirely on defining the right outcomes and determining if those outcomes are being met. What is our mission and is that mission being fulfilled? If we aren't clear on the mission, we need to get clear. If we are clear on the mission, but we aren't achieving it, we need to find new ways of pursuing it.

In order to help the Board stay in this zone, it's important to have the right structures in place for their review of organizational success. Mission and purpose aren't the kinds of things that should be changing every time to Board gets together, so the focus inevitably turns to how we are measuring success and what those metrics are telling us about the capabilities of the organization. That can sometimes be messy territory, but the end result should always be fairly clear. We're either measuring the right thing or we're not. We're either succeeding against that metric or we're not. Action items, once placed in this frame, almost always steer clear of programmatic micromanaging and stay focused on building the resources the organization needs to do its job.

And that, I've discovered, makes reporting Board meeting outcomes to the larger staff a much easier task. There isn't a long list of disparate programmatic directives. There are really just two topics of conversation. Here's where we're doing well and here's where we have to do better. The trick is no longer figuring out what to tell people. They challenge more frequently is coming up with new solutions to old problems.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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