Have you ever heard nonprofit leaders say that they had found people who matched their criteria for new board members but that, once they got on the board, they were not engaged or didn’t fulfill the basic expectations communicated when they were elected? Not a rare occurrence unfortunately! This is another example of how board culture influences board performance. An important element of board culture is the norms board members have about how to hold each other accountable. My experience is that most boards haven’t created explicit agreements about accountability. So, when there is a clear need to do something about a disengaged (at best) or disruptive (at worst) board member what happens? Avoidance, procrastination…..
The default is that board members look to the board chair to solve this. Sometimes that can work but an agreed-upon accountability process—developed by the board as a whole before having to deal with a specific individual—works so much better. I don’t mean that the board chair is not ultimately involved in implementing that process but it’s best when he/she is empowered by the entire board’s agreement on what the steps should be. It is also a good idea for the governance committee to define its role in the accountability process. This shares the burden among board members—and it is a burden. (The board doesn’t have a governance committee? Stay tuned!) No one wants to confront someone who is not fulfilling her commitments. To put a good accountability process in place, the board needs to carve out time on the agenda for the discussion, beginning with a question like: What should we do when one of us doesn’t meet his/her commitments? It can help if you have the luxury of having an outside facilitator assisting with this—maybe at a board retreat. But don’t put it off.
Is this ever a problem for you? Tell me your story! I’ll have an example for you next time.
I like the idea of putting it out to the entire board – pose the question of “How should we best deal with accountability issues and how can we do a better job of assimilating new members”.
This is better than having the executive or governance committee handle – my experience is that it doesn’t get done – better to have periodic reports distributed that indicate progress of accountable items. Peer pressure generally works…the board chair can always have a one on one conversation with someone who clearly is not pulling their weight (and do so in a sensitive way in case their are family or job issues) – I would also suggest that a leave of absence be recommended -that often leads to a person recognizing that resignation from the board might be best.
Thanks for your comments Christine! You have several thought-provoking points here! Overall, I do think it is very important for the entire board to commit to its expectations and process for accountability. This is part of building the culture of the board and the team. Once those agreements are in place – various points of responsibility (e.g., board chair, governance committee, committee chairs) can take it from there – depending on the agreement. Hopefully, there are effective steps in place before things get to the point where a leave needs to happen. But I agree that can be a good option if someone just can’t fulfill board responsibilities for awhile. Have you seen any other accountability processes/practices that you think worked particularly well?