Is your board fighting a losing game? Just as Lucy and Ethel struggle to keep up with wrapping the chocolates in this classic I Love Lucy scene, boards of directors can also find themselves fighting a losing game when operational activities, plans, budgets and decisions come at them faster than can be properly handled.
A board will never be able to keep up if it continues following and reacting to staff initiatives rather than leading and directing the organization or company. How many of these symptoms of reacting vs. leading does your board experience now?
- The board meeting agenda is primarily or completely created by staff.
- The board meeting agenda includes many ideas, decisions or plans requiring board approval.
- Board meeting time is spent discussing operational tactics, events, minutiae.
- An Executive Committee makes many decisions on behalf of the whole board between board meetings.
- Board members feel they are “rubber-stamping” staff decisions and/or are unsure of the value they add.
Unfortunately, many of these practices are common and even expected in the world of boards and senior executives. Alas, these common practices come at a significant cost to people and organizations, including:
- Board member burn-out and a high rate of board turnover;
- Board meetings that cost a great deal but accomplish little;
- Staff time briefing board members to approve decisions that have already been made;
- Delays in proceeding with plans/projects until the board has given its approval;
- Lack of time/energy spent on designing the future and ensuring that real owner-accountability is taking place.
Meanwhile, consider this: if the board is consumed with managing the organization, who is focused on governing? As John Carver says, “The time-honored practice of board approval trivializes the board-staff conversation, camouflages the board’s failure to clarity organizational values, mistakes wandering-around-in-the-presence-of-data for monitoring, and cheats everyone of the opportunity for outstanding board leadership.” (John Carver in John Carver on Board Leadership, Jossey-Bass, 2002, p. 423.)
Rest assured, there is a way for boards to truly lead organizations ethically and accountably, while maximizing freedom for the CEO and staff to achieve results. To stimulate new conversations around your board table about accountability, delegation, and governance, take our online governance course, or schedule a free consultation for more information on how to boost board and organizational effectiveness.
See also: Suffering Board Approval Syndrome? and Got the Boardroom Blues?
Video clip: “Job Switching, ” I Love Lucy, Season 2, Episode 1 (first aired September 15, 1952), this scene featuring Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, episode directed by William Asher, executive producer Desi Arnaz, producer Jess Oppenheimer.