Last time, we began our discussion of board accountability and the value of being intentional about an accountability process. Being intentional, in this case, means that board members discuss and agree on how they will hold each other accountable. Discussing this in advance of a problem arising is an opportunity to create an objective process and avoid personalizing the board’s response when a challenge with a specific board member occurs. Taking ownership of the process gives board members an important tool for promoting teamwork, supporting each other when problems develop, and creating a board culture of accountability that promotes effectiveness. Each nonprofit board is unique; each board needs to develop its own process. This is particularly important because of the great benefit that comes from the discussion as well as the importance of participation to achieve everyone’s buy in.
Before getting into the details of what will be done to ensure accountability among them, it’s helpful for board members to establish some basic ground “rules”—agreements that underlie the accountability process. You may have heard me emphasize before that there a very few real rules about governance! I believe board members can be empowered – more than they realize – to create what works for them and the nonprofit they serve. This is really no different. I am referring to these as ground rules but they are really optional operating guidelines. Once you all agree to them, however, you should expect them to be followed. Here’s a sample list:
1. Define assignments and expectations clearly, including deadlines.
2. Clarify priorities. If there are several expectations of any one person or committee, it is important to clarify with each other the priorities of those expectations.
3. Be mindful and straightforward in identifying the level of capacity (i.e., time and talent) needed to meet expectations. Each board member should be specific in communicating the limits of his/her capacity.
4. Communicate proactively. While it is not OK to miss deadlines, if someone recognizes that he/she is not going to be able to meet a commitment or deadline, communicate with appropriate other board member (e.g., committee chair) as soon as possible. Explore options and be sure the key people who need to be involved and those who can help are in the loop.
5. Ask for help if/when needed.
6. Assume good intentions; use good judgment.
With these types of ground rules in place, board members are ready to define the actions steps that will work for them. I’ll have an example of that for you in my next blog.
In the meantime, I’d like to learn form you how your board holds its members accountable. When accountability is a problem with someone on your board, who deals with it and how?