Blab ep #4, April 6 – Leading an Organization Through Crisis

The recording of the April 6th event is available, click >>

Xylem Group, Blab recording, "Leading an Organization Through Crisis"

Xylem Group
Blab recording on April 6, 2016
“Leading an Organization Through Crisis”
Click to go to the recording

From Merriam-Webster:
Crisis: a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention

From wikipedia: (interesting background read…)
Crisis: any event that is, or is expected to lead to, an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community, or whole society.

Seeger, Sallow, Ulmer* say that crises have defining characteristics: “specific, unexpected and non-routine events or series of events that create high levels of uncertainty and threat or perceived threat to an organization’s high priority goals”

*Seeger, M.W.; Sallow, T.L.; Ulmer, R.R. (1998). “Communication, organization, and crisis”. Communication Yearbook 21: 231-275

Xylem-Group podcasts

Between March and August, 2016, the Xylem Group created a series of 17 podcasts. The audio player/downloaders are here as part the related blog articles. We used the broadcasting platform called Blab. Blab was discontinued on August 12th. Our podcasts are still here at this site, and we’d love you to comment on our discussions. We have lots more to talk about, and will let you know our plans as soon as we figure how to proceed without Blab.

High-Performance Board Meetings: Leading from the Front, the Middle, and Behind — Blab Episode #3

On March 23, 2016, Members of the Xylem Group discussed: High-Performance Board Meetings: Leading from the Front, the Middle, and Behind. The event was recorded on Blab here:

Blab 2016mar23 with Robert Ballantyne, Caroline Oliver, and Susan Mogensen

Robert Ballantyne & Caroline Oliver
Susan Mogensen in Chat
click to view video

Holding Accountable Those Who Govern – Blab Episode #1

The Xylem-Group tried our first public Blab session and the part that was recorded is online here (or click image):

Blab 2016mar2 with John Bruce, Sherry Jennings, Robert Ballantyne, Chuck Bartok, Deepak Sahasrabudhe

Blab Session: Holding Accountable Those Who Govern
click to view the event

The video is similar to the live event. The entire chat field is on the right and you may scroll through that.

The topic for discussion was: Holding Accountable Those Who Govern.

Running the Meeting — Preparation & Attitude

The person who will be chairing or facilitating a meeting has a responsibility to help the assembly to be productive. Regardless of the issues or the agenda, there are a few things I usually think about before the meeting when I am in that role. Consider these as suggestions, not rules. They work with my style as a chair.

  • Think through the agenda. In most cases people will not question the agenda and will try to be creative and thoughtful about discussing whatever topics appear on the agenda. If I know the people involved, and I am familiar with the issues, usually I can imagine some of the possible outcomes of the discussion — but only if I think about it in advance. Do the participants have the information they are likely to need to come to a meaningful decision? If not, is there an option or process that I might suggest to keep from being stuck? May I alter the agenda to be sure that the important issues are dealt with early when people are fresh. Can the agenda be accomplished in the time that is available?
  • Set the tone of the beginning of the meeting. Usually I have, as the first agenda item, Chairperson’s Remarks. I’ll try to begin with an upbeat topical observation or anecdote that relates to the work of the organization or is somehow relevant to the issues at hand. This may seem spontaneous, but I find that planning this can really perk up the beginning of the meeting — so it is an important part of my planning. I want people to feel positive about their service to the organization, and I want them to be smiling as they begin. If there is a guest who will address the group, I have that happen in this part of the agenda.
  • Pay attention to everybody. Certainly I need to attend to the person who has the floor, but I must watch everybody else too. Always. Be aware of body language. Who is listening eagerly, who is not paying attention, who is becoming angry, and who is too shy to participate while others dominate the discussion? When is it productive to draw out those who seem uninvolved?
  • How formal or informal should I be in enforcing the Rules of Order (if those Rules are the accepted way of running meetings in this organization)? The group may enjoy simply having a conversation, but it may be more productive to insist that people address only the question and speak in turn.
  • If there is an issue where I care about the outcome, am I the right person to facilitate the discussion? If I want to personally address the issue, maybe someone else should manage the meeting.
  • Arrive early. I like to ensure that the room setup is appropriate for the occasion, and it is often helpful to have some informal discussion with the participants before the meeting begins. Remember the old rule: If you arrive on time you are ten minutes late. How often do you use your cell phone to call to say something like, “Start without me, I am caught in traffic.” No one is impressed by people who claim to be so busy they cannot arrive in time.
  • If I am able to set the agenda, the second item is Approval of the Agenda. This requires the group to think through the topics that will take up their time. A huge advantage is that when the last agenda item is complete, the chair can conclude the meeting very quickly by saying, “There being no further business this meeting is adjourned (until the date, time, and location of the next meeting).”

Do you have some techniques you use when planning to chair a meeting? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

When did you last read your policies that describe how you will govern?

© 2011 Robert J. Ballantyne with Caroline Oliver

Boards that are new to Policy Governance will spend a lot of time thinking about their Ends and Executive Limitation policies because these contain the words used to delegate the work of their organization to the staff. However, when it comes to articulating the concepts in Governance Process and Board-CEO Delegation categories of policies, boards will often accept the recommendations of their consultant. Unfortunately this means that boards sometimes pay too little attention to the content of those words when in fact they may well cover issues that deserve the board’s attention.

Part of the reason for the content of these policies being ignored may be that much of what is covered in the Governance Process and Board-CEO Delegation categories is a restatement of the substance of Policy Governance itself. Yet it is important and here’s why. These are the policies that the board should be using to hold itself accountable. Now that the policies for your CEO are approved, here is where Policy Governance itself is integrated into your organization. Policy Governance is no longer just the words written by the author of the model, John Carver, or the teachings of your consultant. Policy Governance for you is now what you have articulated in your policies.

As you know, the board is accountable to its owners. In most organizations however there is no effective continuing mechanism for the ownership to hold its board accountable. Therefore, if the board is going to behave responsibly from meeting to meeting it will likely have to come up with some way to hold itself accountable for adhering to its own policies that describe how it intends to govern.

One idea adopted by most Policy Governance boards is that there be a brief self-evaluation report given at the end of every board meeting. Often, a different board member is selected at each meeting to provide that report which usually means filling out a form that becomes part of the minutes. Another idea that can be an alternative to meeting evaluation, or an addition to it, is to have a less frequent (say six-monthly or annual) assessment conducted by the whole board – again using some kind of standard form. Whatever procedure is used, it is my observation that there are a couple of activities that can erode the effectiveness of board evaluation.

First it is not helpful if meeting or board evaluators answer the evaluation questions on the form without recognizing that those questions are purely reminders of the policies themselves. The object is to ensure that the policies are being followed, not just to fill out a form. In all cases, in preparation for conducting board evaluation, the evaluators should first re-read all of the relevant policies so as to be sure they report with a fresh understanding of those words.

It is vital that board members are constantly reminded that their Governance Process and Board-CEO Delegation policies are their descriptions of how they intend to govern and it is therefore really helpful if all board evaluation reports are fully discussed by the whole board at the next available board meeting after they have been produced.

The second activity that can cause erosion of the effectiveness of board evaluation is the board changing Governance Process and Board-CEO Delegation policies without ensuring that the board fully understands the principles behind Policy Governance. In my observation, this often occurs after the board has acquired a number of new members. Without adequate orientation about the principles of Policy Governance it is all too easy for boards to end up adopting new or reworded policies that substantially undermine their effectiveness. The result is boards evaluating themselves against criteria that no longer add up to a coherent approach and, inevitably, finding that Policy Governance is no longer working for them.

To sum up, done properly, board evaluation is a great tool for ensuring that the policies that describe how your board governs are kept real, up-to-date and true to your governing intent. So, when did you last read yours?