Cut the Cord! Invite Board Members to Exit When They Don’t Live Your Values

If you want a healthy board, recruit healthy people.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

One of the myths of volunteer board work is that you see only fine,
well-motivated people who agree on what needs to be done,
when to do it, and how to do it. . .
Good people disagree, do a little politicking, try to make decisions in the bathroom
(the worst form of exclusion), and come to meetings totally unprepared.[1]

Max De Pree

 

I know. I know. It’s so tempting to keep the peace and not deal with difficult or toxic board members. Take “George,” for instance. He was in the second year of his three-year term. Yes, he created problems in virtually every board meeting, but hey—he’ll term out in just five more board meetings. How bad can it be?

In an ECFA governance survey of more than 1,600 CEOs and board members of ECFA-accredited organizations, participants were asked to rate their boards against 20 effectiveness indicators. CEOs, board chairs, and board members all gave their lowest rating to this statement: “Our board has policies in place—and the spiritual integrity required—to ask an under-performing board member to resign.”[2]

Governance takes guts! I learned this difficult boardroom lesson early in my CEO career. Our board’s nominating committee was ready to enthusiastically recommend that a well-known person join our board.

Before the vote, a discerning board member asked a boardroom-silencing question: “Have you talked to his pastor recently?”

Of course, we hadn’t. Long story short, the individual’s lifestyle and values did not square with our board’s values, and we went back to the recruitment drawing board. I should have thanked the board member for saving us a great deal of grief, but I was too embarrassed to bring it up again. Yikes.

The values discussion is mandatory. “One way to get a healthy culture is to hire healthy people,” says Miles McPherson.[3]

So let me paraphrase McPherson: If you want a healthy board, recruit healthy people.

Jack and Suzy Welch describe “The Ultimate Values Test” in their book Winning: The Answers—Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today.[4] They list four kinds of managers in the typical organization or company. Perhaps your board includes all four types.

The Welches recommend that managers [and board members] should be evaluated on two key areas: their performance and how well they live out the corporate values. So for boards, two critical ingredients must be nailed down: the board member’s job description and your ministry’s core values/corporate culture. Here’s how I chart these insights:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To paraphrase Jack and Suzy Welch:

  • Board members in Group 1 deliver great results and adhere to your core values. “They should be praised and rewarded at every opportunity.”
  • Board members in Group 2 deliver poor results but adhere to the values. Perhaps you’ll need to give them a sabbatical from the board for a season—maybe inspiring them to serve in a volunteer role where they can have an impact.
  • Group 3 board members deliver great results but don’t live your values. In many organizations, says Welch, these people “deliver the numbers, but usually on the backs of their people. Companies very often keep these jerks around for way too long, destroying morale and trust as they do.”
  • Board members in Group 4 have poor performance and poor values. This one’s easy to deal with, says Welch. “When you finally get the guts to cut the cord, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.”

Welch also warns not to get rid of value offenders in Group 4 with surreptitious excuses such as, “Charles left for personal reasons to spend more time with his family.” Instead, he cautions, inform your team publicly and “announce that Charles was asked to leave because he didn’t adhere to specific company values.”[5]

“One of the greatest gifts we can offer another person is a safe place to fail.”[6] As you define and refine your board’s core values, pray for a discerning spirit to know when you must show grace and when you must show someone the door.


 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

When you have board members in Group 4
(not performing and not living the values),
invite them to exit the board.
Then, as you recruit new board members, remember this:
if you want a healthy board, recruit healthy people.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Delegate: Invite a board member to read Winning: The Answers by Jack and Suzy Welch and then share several insights for the board at your next meeting.
  2. Review: Dust off your bylaws and/or Board Policies Manual regarding the process for exiting a person from your board. Is the process clear?
  3. Inspire: Share the four-group chart at your next board meeting and inspire board members to function at a high level as Group 1 members.

 

Prayer

Lord, help me to walk the talk 24/7 and also as a board member—
in and out of board meetings. Amen.

 

 

[1] Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 73.

[2] ECFA Governance Survey (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2012), 16–17.

[3] George Barna and Bill Dallas, Master Leaders: Revealing Conversations with 30 Leadership Greats (Carol Stream, IL: BarnaBooks, 2009), 47.

[4] Jack Welch and Suzy Welch, Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 57.

[5] Ibid., 58.

[6] Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch, TrueFaced: Trust God and Others With Who You Really Are (Colorado Spring: NavPress, 2003), 196.
 

From Lessons From the Nonprfit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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