Pathways and Barriers to Your Board’s Strategic Thinking

Building a strategic board benefits any organization, but navigating the process is tricky. Here are a few things to accomplish and to avoid.

Building a strategic board benefits any organization, but navigating the process is tricky. Here are a few things to accomplish and to avoid.

Have you ever wondered how you should get started when it comes to focusing (or refocusing) your board on strategies over tactics? According to one expert, the goal of building a strategic board is achievable.

To start, says Dean West, president and founder of Association Laboratory, Inc., you’ll need motivated volunteer or staff board members who are committed to leading. Working from research and interviews of 25 association leaders, West recently wrote “Creating and Sustaining a Strategic Board,” a white paper that highlights the values of assisting a board to achieve this goal. In it, he emphasizes that strategic boards often have better results because “to act strategically has consistently resulted in superior decisions. Superior decisions mean superior outcomes.”

When first focusing a board on strategy, West suggests, you should consider what the characteristics of a strategic board should be. They are focused on the future; they establish, prioritize, and monitor goals and measurement standards; they model decision-making competencies; and they promote accountability within the board and in all board-staff relationships. With that in mind, what are the key points where boards can exceed or fail these standards?

Paths to Success

Successfully incorporating a few specific traits will allow your board to move your organization toward a more strategic-focused future, says West. He suggests you:

  • Consider your volunteer recruitment process. Think about a more integrated and year-round strategy for volunteer identification, recruitment, and development. Perhaps shift the name of your legacy “Nominating Committee” to something more enticing, such as “Leadership Development Committee.”
  • Confirm your leadership. Make sure you have a strategic thinker positioned as the chief elected officer. Having the volunteer leader supported by a strategic staff officer provides the fuel to spark the board’s strategy into results that benefit the members.
  • Review your business process. Make sure a sound business process is in place to support the board’s ability to make decisions within a strategic framework.

Barriers to Success

On the other hand, there are clear roadblocks that may prevent a board from operating strategically. West says you’ll want to make sure you:

  • Don’t settle for small thinking. Identify individuals on the board who lack the necessary skills or competencies for strategic thinking. Likewise, identify any chief elected officer or chief staff officer without the commitment and competencies to sustain a strategic board.
  • Don’t think short term. Review your plans to ensure your association doesn’t have a culture that focuses on short-term operational thinking and decision making.
  • Don’t allow outside decision making. Your board can easily be pressured into poor decisions by external industry or professional influences. Vet your process and committees to avoid this as much as possible.

Isn’t it time that you hit the pause button and reflect on the characteristics of your board?