Does Board Training Really Matter?

Is peak performance important? Can training and ongoing assessments of performance make a difference in outcomes? Absolutely yes to both questions. Board training does make a difference. It’s almost absurd to even ask these questions, yet one study found that more than half of board members in a national survey stated that their respective organizations did not effectively prepare them for board service.[1]

The above referenced study is both useful and interesting. It’s useful because it provides evidence about how board members experience their time and contributions serving on nonprofit boards of directors. It’s interesting because it largely confirms what most experienced executive directors know from practice. The simple truth is that every nonprofit board can have the onboarding and training they need to improve their contributions and their satisfaction serving in these important roles.

[1]     Association and Nonprofit Boards:  Maximizing Effective Service; © 2017 Heidrick & Struggles:  Project team:  Julian Ha, Bill Hudson, and David K. Rehr

L&M’s Board Management program involves three key elements:

I.     Annual Training
II.   Strategic Planning
III.   Annual Performance Review

I. Annual Training

Much like sports teams engage in pre-season training, boards of directors, every year, should begin their board season with a bit of training.  Even professional sports teams with many returning veterans still engage in pre-season training.  The training is less concerned with conditioning as it was in the past, because athletes are in condition all year round.  The focus is on how they are going to perform as a team in the coming season, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and developing a plan to maximize their returns.  L&M’s annual board orientation/training agenda covers three broad areas:

a. The Nature of Boards (Governance is not Management)
b. Legal Responsibilities (Three core elements: Duty, Loyalty, and Obedience)
c. Etiquette and Protocol (Agreement about how a board will comport itself)

II. Strategic Planning

Every three or four years, the Board should engage in a comprehensive strategic planning exercise involving environmental scans of its members and other stakeholders to reaffirm its mission, or modify its mission based on the results of the scans and their priorities for the future. If financially feasible, it should also engage an experienced professional strategic planning expert to facilitate and guide the process. Using an external strategic planning expert is the best way to guard against confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the natural human tendency to more often believe facts and opinions that support rather than contradict our tightly held beliefs. This can be a serious issue for boards that lack independence, diversity, and equality within their board composition.

Of course, having a strategic plan, while necessary for high performance, is not sufficient by itself. The board needs to work the plan, which is where performance reviews come into play.

III. Annual Performance Reviews

I’ve never met a board of directors that did not periodically evaluate its chief staff executive and expect performance evaluations of the organization’s staff. However, boards that do not evaluate their own performance are not setting a good example for performance evaluations of everyone else in their organization.

Board evaluations need not be burdensome or time consuming. Evaluations should be evidence-based against the board’s own annual plan and position descriptions. An effective review should result in recommendations to improve performance and inform adjustments in the plan based on what is necessary for success in the following year.

Schedule a complimentary consultation with LoBue & Majdalany to learn what we might be able to do to assist your organization.

Posted in Governance vs. Management, Uncategorized.

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