Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dead Wood Continued

MY LAST POST LEFT YOU AT THE POINT OF determining why it's important for your organization to have a fully functioning board. I think that getting very clear on this -- even to the point of writing it down -- as a sort of board mission or vision statement -- will help all board members understand the board's role in leading and protecting a complex system of stakeholders, programs and services. This statement, along with a board job description outlining organizational expectations of board service and the criteria used to identify board talent, form the foundation for evaluation of board member performance.

While some boards are more forgiving of extensive absences or cantankerous behavior, these and other idiosyncracies can ultimately affect effective governance and jeopardize "street cred". (I discuss the absent board member in more detail here.) So, another discussion might have something to do with how much a board can/will tolerate.

These discussions certainly fall within the responsibility of the Nominating/Board Development Committee, and that's perhaps where they should start, but they should continue through to the full board. The very act of discussing these topics at the full board will cause many individuals to re-evaluate their commitment to board service. Some attrition may naturally occur because of it.

The table has now been set to consider easing dead wood into other capacities. I'd love to hear from you about the table-setting discussion you've used to prepare for removing dead wood!

The Conversation
It's now time for one-on-one conversations with your dead wood. Typically these conversations need to come from the head of the Nominating/Board Development Committee or the president. At the very least, the conversation must be held by a board peer. Your first objective is to discover why the dead wood isn't connecting with board work (or the organization in general).

I think the conversation might best be started with an empathetic offering: "We know you've been flat out with getting you new business off the ground, Frances, and you haven't had much time to devote to our organization" or "We know you've had a lot of heath issues this year, Irving." It's important, I think, for the dead wood to know that his/her board peers have noticed the lack of engagement.

The empathetic offering provides an opportunity for the dead wood to acknowledge delinquency, offer to be relieved of responsibility or make a case for staying on. Whatever the response, it's important to always tie the discussion to what the organization/board needs right now. This is not a personal indictment, it's an opportunity to explore why a board member has been unable to engage with the work of the organization.

It may be that any number of issues will surface in the conversation, related and unrelated to the organization. Perhaps the dead wood feels marginalized at board meetings or is feeling over his/her head keeping up with board work. You may be able to discover remedies that could lead to a win-win for the individual and the board.

The conversation can also lead to the opportunity of letting go: "perhaps rotating off the board now/at the annual meeting/at the end of the year will relieve you of a responsibility that you've been struggling with." You know, sometimes this offer is just what the dead wood has been waiting for, but has been too reticent to ask for it.

Next Post: Easing Into Another Capacity

Photo:
Dead Wood from bluevalley_photos

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