Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is Your Association’s Decision-making Fast Enough?

My dad was the general manager (CEO) of an agricultural cooperative. Co-ops – with elected boards – operate much like associations. Back in the early 1960s, the co-op he managed voted to cut the board from 33 to 15 and all the directors resigned and those who wished ran for the 15 board seats. 

When I became an association executive at a large national association with a 48+ member board, I asked Dad how he was able to convince his board to reduce its size. Dad responded with two things: “I helped them (1) realize that we could not do business fast enough with such a large board and (2) create a structure with no executive committee.”

As noted in Race for Relevance, most association boards have too many members. 

In reality, it is not necessarily the size of the board but the speed with which boards can act that creates the problem.

"Speed = Success.” 

-- John Spence in Awesomely Simple

Spence added: “If speed = success, then bureaucracy = failure.”

Speed has always been important but speed seems crucial in nearly all sectors of our lives:

  • Speed = success in nearly all sporting activities.
  • Speed = success in working with the news media and blogs. See David Meerman Scott’s. postings about the value of newsjacking which belongs to those who respond quickly.
  • Speed = success for associations and not-for-profit organizations.
Large boards generally mean slow decisions with cumbersome committee structures.

How can we overcome this?

  • Shrink the size of your board.
  • Eliminate cumbersome structures and processes that slow association management decisions.
  • Give more authority to the CEO and staff to make decisions.
How can a board “give up” decision making to the staff?
  • Establish an executive limitation policy which clearly states what the CEO can NOT do. Establishing these “white lines at the side of the road” within which the CEO needs to operate frees the CEO and staff to make decisions that do not cross the white lines.
  • Charge the CEO and staff to make key decisions within these policies and to quickly communicate such decisions to the board.
PS. Spence notes that in addition to speed, success comes from organizations that have disciplined execution of strategies. “Urgency and discipline: it seems like an oxymoron. But the two not only can coexist; they must.” Spence writes.

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