Over the last two decades, governance — the work performed by boards of directors – has become a more challenging endeavor than ever before. Overwhelmingly, resources are scarcer, requiring organizations to do more with less. Scandals in the corporate, public and nonprofit sectors have resulted in increased pressure and scrutiny on boards of directors from regulators and stakeholders alike. In this environment, boards and staff are seeking ways to perform at a higher level by operating in an agile manner. And yet, most of the prescriptive literature on board governance tends more toward the theoretical than the practical.
This leaves board members relatively unsupported in their quest to effect lasting change for their organizations, sometimes in environments that can actually discourage innovation.
The purpose of this three-part monthly series is to confront this important challenge head-on. Its intent is to provide practical advice for how boards can combine their passion and expertise with governance-focused technology in order to deliver tangible results. Each installment of the series will focus on a key thematic competency that is common among high-performing boards, and explore the meaning and importance of each. The guide will also offer tips and tricks, important considerations, and pitfalls to avoid for boards seeking to enhance their governance practices and drive sustainable organizational change. The series topics are:
- Enhancing Board Processes: Where the Rubber Meets the Road
- Channeling Strategic Collaboration: The Grease that Allows the Engine Run
- Fostering Circumspect Vision: Navigating Through the Windshield AND Rear-View
While pragmatic in nature, these governing practices are firmly supported by leading academic theory. The themes echo the seminal work “Governance as Leadership” by Richard Chait, William Ryan, and Barbara Taylor, which holds that excellent boards must routinely operate in and fluidly transition among three distinct “modes” of governance, as follows:
- Fiduciary Mode – the board is focused on financial and operational oversight – ensuring organizational compliance, and that tangible assets are being used appropriately.
- Strategic Mode – the board helps create a winning strategy for the organization, monitors progress in executing that strategy, and serves as a strategic partner to management.
- Generative Thinking Mode – the board fulfills its leadership role by deciding which issues deserve attention, what the issues mean for the organization, and how best to address.
We find this taxonomy to be imminently useful as a framework for how boards should strive to operate. Like any ambitious diet or exercise regimen, however, this can prove to be more of an aspirational ideal than an attainable reality. This is where technology, when implemented with prudence and strategic foresight, can be invaluable; and this field guide aims to assist in simplifying that process.
This series is informed by our experience at BoardEffect of having worked with over 1,200 organizations to leverage a board portal in pursuit of enhanced operations and mission achievement. It is our aspiration, however, that this series is vendor and technology agnostic, standing on its own merit as an aid to any organization with a governing body seeking to optimize its board as a strategic asset.