Thursday, August 21, 2014

Synergy in the Boardroom: From Chaos to High Functioning

Guest Post by Russ Lemieux, Kellen Company

Description of the Organization: 

The Research Chefs Association is a 2,000 member professional society of chefs and food scientists working in R&D in food industry. Governed by a 16-member Board of Directors. Annual budget: $1.75 million.

The Problem: 
Early in its existence, the association was served well by a very entrepreneurial Board of Directors. Over time, as the organization grew in size and scope, the organization was increasingly hampered by that style of Board. Although the association had a strategic plan, association programs were developed and managed in silos with little or no mapping to the organization’s mission. Board members were personally responsible for specific projects and/or functions, many of them pet projects developed with little input, vetting or Board approval.

For example, a professional certification program was developed and launched without research to determine the demand; and no marketing support to effectively launch and drive program growth. Education programs were attracting limited participation, but viewed as successes by those spending personal time to execute them. The Board of this group always has had tremendous creativity but, until Kellen Company became involved, there was very little structure in place to harness the group’s energy and ideas. Board members themselves had very little interest or discipline with respect to governance structure. As a result, programs and services were not driven by a strategic vision and many were not sustainable. Resources were allocated with little attention to priority need, but more based on the will of the program’s advocate. Opportunities for growth and new income streams were not being fully realized. Board discussions dominated by the idea of the moment.

The Solution: 
Kellen Company's executive team made it clear that the organization had grown to a point that it required a more structured and professional approach to governance and management in order for it to realize its full potential. The strategic plan was restructured, most significantly to establish priorities, clearly define objectives and assign specific responsibilities and accountabilities. Policies were presented and adopted to ensure that new initiatives were not to be brought to the Board without having been vetted at the committee and staff level and that all proposals required a clear mapping to strategic plan as well as a sound business proposition. Also, robust processes and procedures were developed and implemented for a re-energized Nominating Committee. A year-long Board development and recruitment process was established. Annual gap analyses of experience and skills in the Board room was established, including a formal annual evaluation of Board performance (individuals and collective) derived from interviews of all Board members. The Nominating Committee was charged with identifying and vetting all Board and Officer candidates, and empowered and encouraged to deny applications if appropriate so that the membership was presented with election slates comprised only of top candidates for leadership. Regular Board training program, including both Kellen Company and third-party facilitators, was established.

Take-aways: It is imperative that Board’s understand that associations must be run like a business and that their role is to provide a cohesive strategic vision for the business. They need to understand and embrace the need for efficient use of association resources, facilitated by a strong governance structure. For Boards that are less likely to have that perspective, the use of a strong Board development, evaluation and nomination process – driven by peers and supplemented by strong staff leadership – can be an invaluable tool.

Russ Lemieux has more than 30 years of experience working with trade associations and professional societies. He is a Group Vice President for Kellen Company, a full-service association management and professional services company with offices in Atlanta, Beijing, Brussels, Chicago, Denver, New York City and Washington, DC. This year, Kellen is celebrating 50 years in business.

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