Sunday, August 28, 2011

Board Time Investment = Executive Director Satisfaction

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU HEARD THAT BOARD RELATIONSHIPS MATTER?  If you're an executive director reading this post, think about how much time you spend each month interacting with your board.  If you happen to serve an organization whose board meets monthly, that's probably at least a couple of hours right there, plus another couple of hours prep for it that could include agenda review with your chairman and check-ins with various committee chairs.  Maybe you attend one or two committee meetings or conference calls every month.  So, what are you up to -- 6-10 hours per month?  Sounds like a lot.
According to the CompassPoint and Meyer Foundation Daring to Lead 2011report, which surveyed 3,000 executive directors, you'd be in the majority of respondents -- 55% report spending 10 or less hours per month focusing on their boards.  (That's just 6% of a full-time executive director's time -- even less if you routinely work more than 40 hours per week.)  Now, maybe it doesn't sound like so much, right?
The report further reveals that there is a direct correlation between the satisfaction executive directors have with their board's performance and the amount of time they choose to invest in their boards.  Makes sense.  But, this finding ultimately underscored a couple of paradoxical things for me:  1) as executive directors, we have the very real potential to get as much as we give when it comes to building our board relationships, and 2)  the quality of time you give is more critical than the quantity.   
Let's face it:  if the main focus of your interaction is board and committee meetings, which for many organizations are too often focused on the relatively limited outcomes of reporting and short-term operational decision-making,  no amount of your additional time is going to significantly move your satisfaction meter higher.  I mean, there's more to your board relationship than crafting meeting agendas and reports, right? 
In her 2008 report of healthy board chair-executive director relationships for the Journal of Nonprofit Management  (2008, Vol. 12, No.1), Mary Hiland shows us there's much more.  She discussed the levels of working together that build trust and ultimately add value to an organization.  The more trust the ED and board chair built together, the potential for moving as a pair from managing to planning to leading increased.  "The leading pairs worked together, with engaged boards, on issues of organizational vision, mission, and strategic focus.  They described energy and synergies in their relationship, and with the board and the staff, that catalyzed organizational productivity and engagement with the community."
Investing the 'right type' of time as well as the 'right amount' of time with your board needs to be part of every executive director's strategy for not only achieving professional/personal satisfaction, but for creating organizational capital.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Making a Personal Plan: UPDATE

MY LAST POST DESCRIBED HOW I WAS PREPARING FOR A GET-TOGETHER WITH CONSULTING COLLEAGUES to examine the next steps of our careers.  If you visit Linda Norris' blog, The Uncataloged Museum, you'll read a really good recap of how five of us came together last week to work through a discussion that none of us had had in quite this way with others before.  Linda describes the flow of our activities and some key ideas and elements that made our time together not only worthwhile, but truly energizing. 

What we did is not a new concept -- people get together all the time to share information, network, and help sort out career questions.  Our families and friends often are our sounding boards, mostly because they're convenient, they care about us and are, therefore, likely (or required) to listen.  But they may not be as helpful as colleagues or mentors who bring the world view of our respective professions, as well as some critical distance, to our seeking. 

Do opportunities like this seem to happen more in the for-profit world, where resources are presumably more abundant for professional development?  Given the responses to Linda's and my posts and tweets, I think it might not happen as frequently in the nonprofit sector -- at least, the cultural part of the sector where I spend most of my time.  But given the fact that most of us are facing economic constraints of one sort or another, stagnate or declining employment, arts/cultural organization mergers or dissolutions, or the squeeze of elder care, child care or both, it makes obvious sense for nonprofits to focus more attention than normal on structured professional growth.  You might check out Michele Martin's Bamboo Project blog for a great post on positive professional development.

What I learned last week is what many of you may already know or have experienced:  it's really helpful when you can receive insights from some respected colleagues about your skills and attributes, your strengths and weaknesses, and which ones can carry you forward to something you hadn't thought of (or dared to think of) before.  When we decided to spend the morning performing a SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis on each other, we uncovered a wealth of information that crystallized into a number of fairly specific potential opportunities.  It set the stage for a day's worth of creative problem-solving that only a group of engaged people could do.

Where we take our individual plans is now up to each one of us.  But we'll have the group to return to for advice and ideas.  We've made a commitment to stick together to help each other as well as ourselves.

Image:   Idea from faithseekings

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Making a Personal Plan

DESPITE THE FACT THAT I DO A LOT OF ORGANIZATIONAL PLANNING in my consulting work, it's been far too long since I've sat myself down and drafted a personal plan for my career and life.  I think the last time I did any real serious work on a personal plan was more than ten years ago.  'Yikes!' was my reaction when fellow consultant Linda Norris asked if I had one.  Turns out neither did she.  Nor several other colleagues she asked.  Hmmm.....
It wasn't long after that conversation when Linda called again with an invitation to attend a personal planning retreat at her house.  Starting tomorrow, five consultant colleagues are converging for 1.5 days of conversation, soul-searching, group problem-solving, and individual plan creation, and I, for one, am getting really excited about what I might contribute as well as bring home.
I think I've done a fair amount of preparation -- we kick the party off with a discussion about our past and current work and whether or not we see ourselves at a crossroad -- so I've spent some time thinking and writing about all of those things.  Since I'll be summarizing these issues for the rest of the group, I've created a big mind-map that I'll tape up on a wall that will help explain where I think my consulting has been and is now.  
The mind-map is a graphic representation of a short outline-cum-narrative I wrote first.  (I'll share the narrative, too.)  It's been a lot of fun (and work, too) developing the map, but it's really helped me to clarify my consulting past and present.  And most importantly it's helping me to think about the future.
Once each of us has presented our past/present/crossroad overview, the power of group work will take over.  Our plan is to use the group brain trust to help each one of us [re]focus and clarify our career aspirations for the 'next stage' of our lives (however each of us defines that stage).
I'm so glad to have the chance to put into practice what I advise my organizational clients to do all the time.  Our retreat starts tomorrow --- I'll let you know how I do.