Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't fail to plan... Follow the process!

This is an incredible time right now for my agency. I am leading my team through a strategic planning process. I always include senior management in this process because executive leadership sets the tone for the entire corporation and I want this tone to be one of excitement and enthusiasm about increasing the prosperity of the Oil Region.

We have begun our strategic planning process with a strategic vision or a description of what will be when we have achieved our goals and objectives. The vision is communicated in our strategic plan through our mission and vision statements. It is extremely important to me that the staff clearly understand and believe in our mission and can see the vision. This can only happen if it is communicated and modeled by the senior staff. A highly desirable characteristic of any successful CEO is their ability to clearly see the strategic vision along with an incredible passion for the agency and the ability to excite and influence those around them to dare to believe too!

The next few steps have included sharing of an overall corporate plan and asking our business units – economic development, tourism, heritage preservation, and finance and administration to propose strategic plans for themselves that fit into the overall corporate plan. This includes a complete SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of each unit. They must carefully look at the internal strengths and weaknesses of the unit to achieve the overall corporate mission and vision and external opportunities and threats for job creation and investment, tourist spending, and heritage preservation.

This is a long and time consuming process because it is the CEO’s responsibility alone to evaluate the unit plans and provide the appropriate feedback. Each unit must justify its proposed objectives, strategies, and programs in terms of how well they satisfy the agency’s overall objectives in light of the available resources. Please share with me your unique experience in strategic planning for your agency!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is your agency having closed door meetings? Well, they should!

This week I want to discuss the concept of “executive sessions.” Executive sessions are not to be confused with executive committee meetings. An executive committee meeting is a standing committee of the board and an executive session is an exclusive meeting of the whole board behind closed doors. That’s right. It is an exclusive meeting behind closed doors. That means – no staff, no guests, and often no CEO.

Chief executives sometimes feel threatened by closed meetings from which they are excluded. There is no meeting that can create more anxiety, suspicion, and overall sense of secrecy than the executive session! But, every board should use executive sessions. Often, there arises, certain situations where the presence of staff, including the CEO may hinder open deliberations. Every board has the right to meet without outsiders in the room to discuss confidential matters that must be handled in privacy. And, that should not worry, offend, or cause anxiety with anyone, especially not the CEO.

Now, there are very specific rules for how a board should use executive sessions and the organizational by-laws and policies will determine how to proceed. The chair is usually responsible for calling these sessions, but any board member can request one. Executive sessions should always be scheduled appropriately. Executive sessions should not be used for any of the following reasons: to avoid discussing tough issues in an open meeting; to dodge responsibility; to restrict any board member’s access to information or to purposefully create a secret society like atmosphere. The agenda should clearly state the purpose of the session and a regular meeting should always be scheduled immediately following an executive session. The minutes of the regular board meeting should indicate that the board went into executive session; the time they went in and the time they came out. There should also be a record of who was present, and a description of any action that was taken.

Executive sessions should NOT be a source of anxiety for the CEO. Executive sessions are a necessary tool for board governance and should be embraced by the chief executive. A wonderful way to eliminate fear and anxiety is for the chair to meet with the CEO prior to and after an executive session to get professional advice from the CEO about what is going to be discussed and why certain action is going to be taken. This allows the chief executive to be involved without actually attending the meeting. Please share with me your experience with executive sessions and how they made you feel?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Is Your Boardroom Civil?

This week I want to talk about UNDERSTANDING and ACCEPTANCE of others’ opinions. I am not suggesting that you abandon your point of view, but rather that you understand, accept, and respect that other people have their own unique perspective too. In fact, I want to encourage you to adopt the philosophy that differing opinions are something to be treasured, valued, and encouraged.

I know that this can often be hard when you are passionate about your point of view, but you must try to let your peers express their opinions, no matter how different they may seem from yours. I can relate to this personally because I am so passionate about the work that I do that I often allow my emotions to take over and block out others’ opinions which are also equally very important to the mission of the agency.

Spirited debate is healthy because it is a way to ensure that decisions are being made through the evaluation of ALL the information available to help make that decision. However, it becomes unhealthy for an organization when the emotions are directed at a person rather than an issue. This type of private wrangling can divert the focus away from the mission. The chair should be very careful to look for signs that the discussion may be getting out of hand and take the proper steps to regain control. Improper language and verbal insults should be stopped immediately. Disagreeing with someone’s comments is perfectly normal, but inappropriate behavior should not be accepted.

Lastly, I have never experienced this, but racist and other comments, intolerance of others’ personal convictions, and impugning the motives of others is also unacceptable. Whether the comments are intentional or out of ignorance they should be addressed immediately and the board, at this point, may want to consider diversity training.

Here are some suggested tips on keeping the meetings civil:
1. Arrive on time
2. Come prepared
3. Know the ground rules of the meeting
4. Don’t be judgmental
5. Talk about issues, not people
6. Allow other people to speak too
7. Ask questions
8. Talk about issues at the meeting not in the parking lot after
9. Disclose any conflict of interest

Remember these tips and be respectful of others and you will become a valuable resource for a nonprofit organization in need of your expertise. Please share with me your thoughts on boardroom civility?