Mark Twain once quipped “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” - we think the same applies to the approach that organisations in general, and boards in particular, adopt in the development of their strategic plans. It is much easier to identify many initiatives that could contribute to improving the performance of the board and the organisation, whereas it requires effort, resources and risk to prioritise and focus on a much smaller number. In this article, we suggest 3 things that Boards could do better to improve their own performance and thereby the performance of the organisation they govern.
- Implementing the strategic plan
Whilst we do not want to diminish the task of developing a strategic plan, it is generally accepted that it is much easier to develop a plan than successfully implement all the initiatives developed during the planning process. Consequently, our first thing” we could do better” is to commit to a process to ensure we actually do what we say we are going to do – here are a few things we should do to achieve this goal:
- Ensure we have the capacity and capability to implement the strategies;
- Allocate sufficient and additional resources, if necessary to do what has to be done:
- Put in place a system to monitor the implementation process; and
- If it is not working, try to understand why and take corrective action.
This approach is fundamental to good governance.
- Managing performance, at 3 levels
The process of managing performance should not be about allocating blame, rather it should be seen as an opportunity to review what has been achieved, the means by which the outcomes have been achieved and the contribution made by the board, the CEO and the organisation (i.e. management and staff) itself. Reviewing how each of these three elements have performed against expectations is critical not only to understanding the results achieved during the review period, but also, and most importantly, about identifying how the organisation can improve in the future.
To do this:
- Establish clear and concise key areas of responsibility for each element;
- Develop key performance measures that are specific, achievable, time bound and aligned to the strategic goals of the organisation; and
- Take action when required, do not procrastinate or accept poor performance
Performance management is another key element of good governance.
- Custodians of the culture
In recent times, much has been said and written about organisational culture and the role it plays in the implementation of strategy and the achievement of goals. Someone (maybe Peter Drucker) once said that ”culture eats strategy for breakfast” and whilst it can be debated who said what and when, the principle is indisputable – the best strategy in the world will struggle to be implemented, if the culture is not aligned to the strategy. So what role does the board play in establishing and managing the culture?
Creating, communicating and imbedding the organisation’s values and principles – acknowledge and recognise aligned behaviour and punish transgressions, no exceptions; Put in place a process to monitor performance, both internally and externally i.e. staff surveys, customers’ feedback, focus groups; and Invest in training and development-developing a preferred culture that will deliver the strategy does not just happen, it requires commitment, resources and a systematic approach. It will take time and effort but the rewards will be worth it.
Creating and maintaining the right organisational culture starts with the board.
In summary, in the non-profit sector, the governance of an organisation is generally directed by part-time, non-executive and non-remunerated members of a community, whether that community is a region, a sector or an industry. Time and resources are scare, however responsibility and accountability is not diminished by any of these factors.
Consequently, to be effective and to apply the principles of good governance, boards have to make decisions about what is most important to the long term success and sustainability of their organisation. The “long letter“ will probably identify the critical issues somewhere within, however it is the “short letter” that will generate the best result and is really the only real option open to the board in this era where “more has to be achieved with less”.
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