On the one hand, it’s your job to take a bird’s-eye view, control the reigns, and lead the organization as effectively as possible.
On the other hand, the board is technically a CEO’s boss. So telling them that they’re not cutting it is hardly an easy thing to do.
Improving your board dynamics may be a delicate line, but it’s not an impossible one! If your board engagement is feeling stagnant, here are five ways to encourage active participation.
Make engagement come alive
A common problem is when board members are present but they’re not necessarily contributing. They’ll attend all meetings faithfully…but that’s about all they do.
To encourage active board participation, I recommend starting with a strong expectation description. Don’t simply write this down, discuss it with the board members!
Have a conversation about what board engagement looks like in practice. Your goal is to make sure everyone is clear on what engagement should be, what the board’s needs are, and what’s expected of them as a member.
A few example expectations that go beyond meeting attendance are:
- Being actively involved in committee meetings
- Reading and responding to emails
- Making phone calls on behalf of the organization
- Sharing social media posts made by the organization
- Reviewing financial statements
- Asking friends to support the organization
- Being a brand ambassador
Discuss how the board needs to behave to achieve your shared goals and ambitions. This will put board behavior into perspective and remind members why it’s so important for them to engage.
Remember, behind every board are individual members
Every person on your board joined for a reason. When members are tapping into their unique job motivators, they’re more excited and invigorated, which naturally leads to higher engagement.
Sitting down with each member to explore their reasons for joining can reignite their passion and excitement for the position.
Why did they first want to join the board? Have those motivations changed since joining? If so, how?
What are their interests with regards to the organization?
What are their unique strengths and talents?
Where would they like to use their talents to most benefit the organization?
Be open to the responses you hear and try to match their interests and talents with the role that they play. If a board member works in finance in their day job, for example, they may not want to do that when they’re volunteering. They may be sick of dealing with numbers and want to work on something creative instead.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Low board engagement is often a symptom of an ailing recruitment and/or orientation practices. It’s important to look back to the source as a potential cause of the problem. How are you attracting and training new board members?
Look at your recruitment practice: What do you look for in new members? How do you entice them to join the board? Could you be inadvertently attracting the wrong type of person with your messaging?
Revisit your orientation as well. How do you cultivate new board members? How do you teach them your expectations? How can you encourage new members to be excited about their roles and actively engaged? How can you create a culture where members want to contribute?
Redesigning your recruitment and orientation practices won’t solve the problem overnight. But by bringing on active board members who understand what they’re getting into and what’s expected of them, you’ll avoid the problem from continuing in the future.
Make evaluation an active part of your routine
Just as in business, boards need annual evaluations to make sure they’re functioning well. What’s working well today might not work well next year.
Annual board evaluations are critical for maintaining high engagement levels. Consider things like:
How did the year go?
How is the board functioning as a whole?
How are individual members performing?
How well is the board working as a team?
What progress have individual members made on their goals?
Sometimes, doing the same routine for two, three, or more years, people can get bored. Make sure you have room and opportunity for change. Board members may like to rotate, for example, to keep it interesting. A yearly evaluation helps to maintain that sense of excitement.
Have some fun (gasp!)
I consider a board to be a team. So just like the teams within your company, you want to make it fun!
Include engaging team development activities so your meetings aren’t dull and dry. Don’t make them entirely business-oriented. People engage with people they like. Creating a meeting environment that’s enjoyable helps keep members engaged.
I have an organization that has an annual retreat every year for their board. Historically, the board retreat had been about reviewing reports from the officers, making motions and executive decisions for the coming year, etc. The year I was invited to their retreat, we shook up the stale practices.
Together, we created a historic timeline. Each board member announced which year they came on and what was happening in the organization at the time to build a living history. It set a great framework for where they’ve been and how far they’ve come. The older members (some had been around for 20+ years) loved the stroll down memory lane and the new members were motivated by the progress that had been made. From there, we began to envision the future and what we’d like to see for the next 10 years for the organization.
This invigorated them for what’s to come, which really helped increase board engagement.
The moral of this story is to never underestimate the value of a little fun and thinking outside the box! Fresh methods can do wonders to keep your board excited and engaged.
How do you motivate board members to be actively involved? Do you perform an annual review? If so, what questions do you ask to analyze board performance?
Board governance is something we’re very passionate about here at The PaineFree Group. We offer BoardSource Certified Governance Training to enhance board performance through the board-building cycle, board retreats, and ongoing coaching for chief executives and board chairs. Click here to learn more.