Every two or three weeks with this Change-Making Board Services blog, it’s my plan to put up a new post focusing on what I believe are the most critical Practices, Actions, Styles, Attitudes, Manners, Behaviors, and Attributes—which I collectively refer to as the PASAMBAs—for the change-making board to follow. The PASAMBAs we’ll explore here in the coming months will provide trustees a perspective to view board leadership from multiple angles essential for change making in organizations—from larger public agencies like schools, hospitals, or museums, to smaller and medium-sized nonprofits.
But before any deep dive via future blog posts into the change-making PASAMBAs important for your board and fellow trustees, we need to first consider a couple of questions:
· What are the board roles and responsibilities foundational to change-making board governance?
· What are the characteristics (values may be the better word) of the change-making organization?
In this post, I’ll share my take on the first question—the four key “jobs” of the change-making board based upon my synthesis of empirical research, leadership insight, and a knowledge base built from experience working in public and nonprofit agencies.
Next time, then, we’ll examine the nature of the entity represented by the second question—i.e., the change-making organization—which trustees’ collective leadership and governance abilities are intended to support.
Taken together, the two questions suggest a new governance framework is necessary to help public and nonprofit boards guide the serious work of their organizations for the uncertain, fast-paced world which they operate in today. Maybe more importantly, the questions imply an essential truth: Before any board can lead organizational transformation, it must transform itself!
Traditional Roles and Responsibilities
You don’t have to look very hard to find an assortment of lists setting forth the primary responsibilities of the average public or nonprofit board. Many such tallies describe board governance as some mix of fiduciary, strategic, and evaluative roles. Boardable, the highly popular board software company, has published a concise list of seven “core” responsibilities—duties and tasks every board member is expected to fulfill, regardless of the organization or the individual trustee’s level of experience.
Governance lists like Boardable’s, and many others, importantly highlight the science of trusteeship—with a focus on compliance, oversight, and direction-setting for the organization as it presently exists. The change-making board, however, must be a future-focused board—one that alters its trustees’ mindsets and traditional ways of thinking about their institutions and agencies.
The Four Facets of Change-Making Boards
My Four Facets of Change-Making Boards framework is meant to integrate thinking about conventional trustee roles with a multi-dimensional perspective of board leadership to foster change making. This framing approach opens a window for boards to make better sense of difficult organizational environments and problems to respond with greater inventiveness and flexibility for reaching their future goals. Indeed, doing this comprises the art of trusteeship.
The facets of this new governance model consist of four broadly defined role and responsibility dimensions.
Strategic-Analytic: This facet is the basis for all boards in establishing a future focus for the organization. The strategic aspect explores approaches for determining organization mission and priorities before putting in place the processes necessary to ensure those elements are fully implemented. The analytic part of this facet anticipates problems that always arise during the implementation of any new plan, along with the more routine matters related to regular and ongoing operations of the organization.
Fiduciary-Operational: This facet incorporates two sets of duties which trustees owe to their organizations. The fiduciary component of the facet includes trustees’ combined duties of care, loyalty, and obedience carried out “in trust” to the organization, while the operational portion entails the board’s duty to carry out its work within the ongoing structure of the organizational wherever possible. And on those occasions when a future-focused board has to change that existing structure for progress to be made, such should take place in a clear and transparent manner.
External-Ambassadorial: This political dimension of the Four Facets model concerns the relationship between the board and myriad external constituencies of the organization. The ambassadorial angle of the facet examines those constituency relationships in light of what the change-making board does to keep then open and healthy.
Structural-Technical: This is a special facet, distinct from the others because it is centered on the board’s governing activities, more so than the organization itself. The structural component seeks to build trustee capacity in fulfilling board roles and responsibilities. The technical manifestation of governance occurs in the primary way boards come together to exercise their duties—through their meetings. (As experienced trustees might guess, there is no shortage of PASAMBAs for improving board meeting management!)
As indicated at the top of this post, after looking next time at what constitutes a change-making organization, the many and varied PASAMBAs we’ll be considering in subsequent posts will be linked to these four facets—offering real-life strategies for increasing your productivity and effectiveness as a trustee across the different dimensions of change-making governance.
R. J. Dunn