Sunday, August 24, 2014

Governance and Strategy: Steps from Administrative Management to Strategic Leadership


Guest Post by Greg Schultz of The Sherwood Group, Inc.

Name of Association: National professional society

Description of the Organization: 


  • 2,500 member professional society of survey and research professionals 
  • Annual budget of $1.25 million

The Problem: 

  • The board members defined their jobs as management, not leadership, and they didn’t see the distinction. There was a laser focus on day to day management and details, and the board would repeat committee work. There was no leadership continuity, and as a result leadership was personality-driven. 
  • Intellectually, a few board members understood that they had to evolve, but even those enlightened few couldn’t articulate how or why. The board had been successful growing the organization to that point by being hands on, with concrete tasks and deadlines. So why change? 
The Solution: 

  • The society was volunteer-managed until 2003, then contracted with a firm for administrative support. They began working with The Sherwood Group in 2009. The board and Sherwood agreed to work toward improving focus on the big picture. An additional concern was retaining the board’s culture and tradition throughout the process.
  • One of the first steps was hiring an experienced, strong executive director and judiciously increasing staff size to relieve administrative burden on member volunteers. The new staff team began by acknowledging board members and recognizing them for the good things they had done, while also letting them know that there were better ways to do some of these things that they were already doing well. Key elements that followed included improving the frequency and productivity of board meetings; ensuring that strategic discussions were the bulk of each board meeting; ensuring that the board and staff were setting goals and evaluating progress; building trust between and among volunteers; improving the relationships between the board and the staff, and the president and president-elect; improving the nomination process and setting clear expectations for board members; exposing the board members to best practices for association management. The specific tactics used to achieve these goals will be discussed in the session. 
Take-aways: 

  • Board members cannot become good leaders until they have seen good management. 
  • Equally important, staff must earn the board’s trust and confidence by demonstrating professional competence and respect for the organization’s traditions and culture. 
  • The board can then begin to recognize that there is a different and more important role for them to play, and they can let go of quasi-staff roles they may have assumed. 
  • When the president came back from the ASAE/Tecker CEO Symposium and began to talk with the board about what he had learned, the board started to take notice and embrace changes. A champion for change and vision is critical. 


Twenty-five years into a career of helping nonprofit boards advance their missions, Greg Schultz is still in love with the idea of creating dynamic communities where people grow, succeed and change the world around them. As Vice President of The Sherwood Group, he has worked with more than 30 associations, helping to build a leading full service association management firms focused on international professional societies in health, science, technology and business. “A good day is helping clients and colleagues achieve more than they thought possible.”

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