Embedding a Culture of Progression and Longevity Among Board Members

Each new set of Board members are faced with the same conundrum: the desire to achieve things and make a difference, but only a limited term with which to do it. The answer to this issue, is to instill a sense of mission and to focus the attention of Board members on longer term issues. GGA’s Rob Hill delivers the key insights.

Formulate a proper orientation

Every board, just like a club, has its own culture which is defined by its traditions and practices, and every new board member deserves a focused introduction to this culture if they are to be expected to adapt and contribute from the outset of their term.

Orientations vary greatly, but no matter the approach, they offer an extraordinary opportunity to focus new and existing members on the club’s vision, mission and the long-term strategic business priorities of the board.

It’s also the ideal environment to emphasize the progress made by the club and immediate actions to be undertaken, both of which underline the responsibility the board holds: to advance a plan, to make meaningful progress, and for this be aligned to an overarching strategy so that there is continuity of effort.

This sense of collective effort – of accountability, of building on the work of others, of advancing a plan closer to its successful conclusion ­– is often inspiring for new board members.

Focus on the future

Clubs traditionally start meetings with minutes and committee reports that contain minutiae and operational items that are reflective of what has already happened, but ideally a Board should be focused on strategy (the future) and policy.

Everyone (Boards and GM’s) would rather spend their time on the concrete things and events that they can touch and feel, rather than the conceptual – strategy and planning.

You have to challenge these instincts using a “Consent Agenda”. Effectively, the Hon Sec and Club Manager should carefully plan not only the details of the agenda, but, crucially, the order too, in order to keep strategy at the forefront of Board business.

It takes several meetings and a commitment up front, but over time it helps to shift the emphasis toward the future.

Face resistance with facts

Should a Board successfully navigate the strategic planning process and adopt a long-term plan, it should not make the mistake in thinking that the hard work is over, or that all of its future members will support it without question.

It is common for plans to be questioned and tested. After all, if Board Members are to be tasked with the implementation of a plan, it is only right that they can challenge elements they doubt. Board governance is most successful when Members ask the right questions, put forth new ideas and challenges, and continually refresh and renew the Club’s goals.

Where a Board Member is strongly resistant to elements or the entirety of a strategic plan, this is often the result of either: a belief or conviction based on their experience, or a feeling that a plan only serves as a straitjacket which prevents them from imposing their own will on the Club.

In such an instance it is important that facts are established. That way, any questions of validity or appropriateness are based on evidence rather than purely belief or emotion. Board Members can passionately state a personal position in opposition to components of a plan, but they should be expected to support their positions with facts.

Foster a shared vision

 A strategic plan is certainly a powerful tool for facilitating continuity of tenure. However, it should never be considered a silver bullet. A strategic plan, no matter how good it is, will not cure all ills.

Long-term success requires alignment of the entire club. Only when the board, executive leadership, committees, members and staff are fully aligned behind a shared vision, when you consistently communicate your successes and progress, when the entire club believes in and sees the positive impact of strategy does real momentum build. Indeed, over time, this becomes integral to the fabric of the club’s culture. It becomes a habit.

Key takeaways

  1. A Board orientation is a powerful tool for maintaining continuity and momentum. It is a matter of educating volunteer leaders on the mechanics of the Club, the responsibilities they have toward it, how the Board functions, and, importantly, the strategic goals and actions toward which the Board is working.
  2. It takes determined and committed leadership to keep a Board focused on the Club’s future rather than obsessing on the past. Tools such as a consent agenda can support this focus, as will enlisting the strategic action plan as the central focus of each Board meeting.
  3. Successful plans are built on intelligence and facts. This not only makes them more likely to succeed, but will protect them from those who are resistant to change.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Rob Hill.