Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What to Do With Dead Wood on Your Board?

MY POLL ASKED WHAT ONE BOARD DYNAMIC YOU would change this year and the top response was "remove dead wood". For my first post on this topic I'd like to start with two obvious facts: 1) most boards have some non-performing or under-performing board members AND 2) most boards already have mechanisms in place for removing dead wood...or at least the non-attending dead wood. Those mechanisms are found in the Bylaws and perhaps in a board job description.

Few boards, it seems, invoke these mechanisms, mostly out of fear of offending the offender. We end up side-stepping the dead wood, dancing around it, ignoring it, wishing mightily it would go away. Oh, and complaining about it. So, even though the dead wood isn't doing much, it's sapping the energy and focus of many others. (There must be a Law of Physics about this!)

Where to start and how to implement? While removing dead wood is not the most pleasant of responsibilities, it does not need to be -- and should not be -- a negative, "You're fired!" kind of conversation. Removing dead wood needs to come from a clear understanding of what a board must accomplish in order to sustain organizational health and strengthen organizational impact. This is a board and senior staff level conversation beginning, perhaps, in the Nominating/Board Development Committee.

I'll continue this train of thought in my next post.

Photo: wood2.JPG from whiteoakart


Linda Norris said...

And you know, I think it's not necessarily a bad thing when someone goes away mad. Sure, it would be great if everyone loved your organization, but if your dead or obstructionist wood does, and you get rid of them and they're mad...that might mean you're doing your job!

Anne W. Ackerson said...


It's inevitable that there will be some difficult "separations". Rejection will leave some people hurt or angry. As much as we might try to be diplomatic when moving someone off the board, it's never without pitfalls.