Six Things You Can Do Right Now to Boost Your Board’s Performance

Presented by Rob Acton, principal and founder, Cause Strategy Partners and BoardLead at the 2017 BoardSource Leadership Forum

Rob Acton began his standing-room only session by asking why so many boards underperform. The answer: Low expectations, wrong expectations, lack of opportunity to engage, and tolerance for underperformance.

What can we do about it? Make better use of board meetings. Treat board members as individuals, not just “the board.” Reshape board culture. How can we do this?

  1. Reimagine the board meeting agenda. Begin by making generative and strategic questions the backbone of the agenda. Taking cues from Governance as Leadership, Rob explained that generative questions allow for deeper thinking on important organizational topics; often focus on issues related to vision, mission, or values; explore the “why,” not the “how”; often do not involve decision making; and should come first on the agenda. Strategic questions lead to discussions and board planning around one of the board’s central board responsibilities — shaping effective strategy for the future; focus on programmatic action, priority setting, and internal/external scans. They are related to developing, modifying, or monitoring the strategic plan and often require decision making. See Rob’s session slides (below) for his favorite generative questions. Rob also suggests facilitating participation at every stage of the meeting by including go-around activities, stop reading the CEO report, remaking committee reports, and assigning stakeholder roles and a contrarian.
  2. Develop a board dashboard. No matter the version — quick and easy or longer and more complex — a dashboard provides the board with a visual overview of an organization’s status and overall direction based on pre-selected measures of performance and mission effectiveness. With a dashboard, board members can readily spot changes and trends in performance and focus their attention on what matters most.
  3. Hit your board members’ sweet spot. Are you playing to each of your board member’s unique strengths?  Identify and explore these strengths during the vetting process, by using CliftonStrengths Finder, or At My Best Strengths cards. Rob also suggested giving board members an opportunity to use their strengths through committees and task forces and making big asks of them. Leaders are drawn to challenges.
  4. Amp up your board communications. Celebrate your members’ accomplishments by having the board chair start every board meeting by recognizing each and every member who has stepped up.  And share stories of mission impact (“mission moments”), so your board members are armed with the information they need to be effective ambassadors for the organization.
  5. Tap into the four dimensions of health. Healthy individuals are emotionally connected, mentally focused, physically energized, and spiritually aligned. Rob recommends providing your board members with opportunities to develop authentic relationships through social events; to engage the intellect and wisdom of your board members by asking them big questions and ensuring board diversity; by occasionally getting board members out of their seats and the boardroom through retreats, program attendance, and, if possible, by taking walks through the neighborhoods served by your organization; and keep board members close to the “Why are we here?” question.
  6. Get started right now!   

Session Slides | About Rob Acton