Is Your Association Board Nimble?

Image Credit: Alex Jones
Image Credit: Alex Jones

By Jalene Bowersmith, Executive Director

The board for the Widgets of the World Association (WoWA) is having their monthly meeting. During the meeting the president announces that the National Thingamajig Association (NATA), a rival organization, has just released an online certification program. The program will provide NATA with additional revenue for years to come and may pull members from WoWA.

Let’s face it, in today’s fast paced world boards need to make well informed decisions quickly. The above example is fictitious, but the concerns are real. Deliberations that linger on meeting after meeting can be draining and leave your association rehashing the past, focusing on barriers to progress (like WoWA) while more nimble associations (like NATA) are focusing on the future, creating the next big thing. How do you get all your board members on the same page and help them make well informed decisions quickly and concisely?

Effective board members aren’t born, they are developed. Most volunteers don’t join a board knowing the skills needed to be effective, efficient board members. (In fact, a recent Stanford study showed that most nonprofit boards are largely ineffective.) Providing board members with effective tools, an understanding of expectations, and a common vocabulary is crucial to the success of any board. In addition, having difficult conversations about the barriers to success, before they arise, provides board members with a basic understanding and underlying foundation to become effective board members.

In 2014, I attended a session facilitated by the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) Center for Leadership Development, at ASAE’s Conference in Nashville. The session presented by Bill Shepherd and Elaine La Chappelle outlined training materials developed by OREA to combat the problems stated above.

At just over two hours in length, the tutorials OREA developed – Nimble Decision Making – provide a basis for board training, a common vocabulary to work more effectively together, tools to communicate and help board members think more strategically, as well as a candid discussion of barriers that can derail a board. The video recorded sessions are divided into three tutorials, which provide flexibility of delivery, and include workbooks with activates, discussion topics, and template tools which keep members engaged.

  • Tutorial 1 – Emerging Trends and making timely decisions
  • Tutorial 2 – Barriers to nimble decision making and Inspiring behaviors
  • Tutorial 3 – Planning, communicating and monitoring decisions to evaluate results

The tutorials come with a facilitator’s guide, so the Executive Director and/or President can lead the sessions without bringing in an outside facilitator.

Through a donation to OREA, our organization received the materials and we implemented Nimble Decision Making last fall. I have found it to be well received and very successful. Since implantation our board meetings have become much more effective. Our board members understand what is expected of them and can now take ownership in meeting since they understand their roles. We have improved communication at meetings by instituting several of the tools provided in the tutorials, such as briefing notes, discussion guides and dashboard. Board members are more engaged and excited about their role in shaping the future of the organization and when the board needs to make a difficult decisions, such as whether to raise membership dues, we can have a candid conversation about the barriers that are holding us back, so we can move forward together as a united board.

We are now incorporating Nimble Decision Making into our new board member training and all board members will review the tutorials at a face-to-face meeting once a year to general discussion and keep their focus on the future of the organization.

For more information on Nimble Decision Making contact Elaine La Chappelle with the Ontario Real Estate Association Center for Leadership Development. Email: Phone: (416) 445-9910

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

How to Manage Your CEO Performance Evaluation for Best Results

Image Credit: Rob Bye
Image Credit: Rob Bye

By Whitney Bertram, operations manager

These ideas are inspired by the session “How to Manage Your CEO Performance Evaluation for Best Results” at the ASAE Annual Meeting on August 10, 2014, presented by Joel Albizo, FASAE, CAE; Wes Ehrecke, FASAE, CAE; and Nancy Green FASAE, CAE.

As an association management company, IMI Association Executives sends evaluations to our partners’ boards so they can provide feedback on our services. Employee evaluations are performed by the company instead of by the individual boards.

Many associations have CEOs who are hired directly by the association. It is important for all CEOs to have performance reviews. The CEO’s performance is usually evaluated by the board, executive committee or a special task force.

Categories for CEO evaluation can include:

  • leadership
  • financial management
  • communication
  • executive qualities
  • governance
  • volunteer relations
  • management and administrative
  • organization and planning

It is important to note that there is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership involves influence and inspiration. Management consists of controlling a group to accomplish a goal.

There are many challenges when it comes to evaluating the CEO’s performance:

  • Board turnover leads to inconsistency from year to year
  • Board has limited interaction with CEO
  • Board doesn’t provide useful feedback
  • Board wants to avoid criticizing
  • Board provides input on details, not bigger picture such as strategic progress

The CEO and the board must make sure they are in agreement on what is important. The CEO and the board chair/president need to have a discussion about expectations and the assignment of responsibilities.

One way to facilitate the CEO evaluation is to include the evaluation form and/or criteria in the CEO employment agreement. This establishes expectations from the start.

It helps to narrow down the evaluating group to just the executive committee because they are most involved with the day-to-day work of the CEO. The evaluating group needs to know there is value in the evaluation and that they should take the work to complete it. Remind them to keep track of association activities so they are equipped to evaluate. Make sure the process is as easy as possible since the board is made up of volunteers. Use an outside firm if necessary.

When possible, perform the evaluation in person so that there is a captive audience. Often, emailed forms get overlooked. This also allows for more dialogue. Don’t let the form hinder additional discussion. Also, consider allowing the CEO to complete a self-evaluation and include it in the formal evaluation process.

Consider measuring outcomes instead of activities. Evaluate progress of the association against the strategic goals. If using 360° format (where peers or subordinates provide feedback), use them only as a development tool instead of in formal evaluation.

Conducting CEO evaluations with honest conversation and feedback allows for association growth.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

20 Key Takeaways from the Book: “The Will to Govern Well”

Image Credit: Lou Levit
Image Credit: Lou Levit

Linda Owens, president

Book coverWhile studying for the CAE exam, I read the book, “The Will to Govern Well” by Glenn H. Tecker, Paul D. Meyer, Leigh Wintz, CAE and Bud Crouch. This book is intended as a handbook for developing strategies for change in governance, based on an extensive study of information collected from governance specialists. While analyzing the results of the study, three themes emerged as keys to developing the will to govern well: Knowledge, Trust and Nimbleness.

The authors begin by looking at why governance needs to change: to remain relevant and sustainable.

“Absent of a vision—a sense of direction and an understanding of where the industry and its members are going—an association exists in a constantly reactive mode. For a while it may retain its role as a viable information source for its members, but over time it will lose effectiveness as increasingly it learns about changes in the industry, profession, or cause at about the same time that members do.”

I’ve decided to summarize some of the key points I took away below, but recommend you buy the book yourself for the details:

Changing Governance Systems

“Board meetings should be a platform for dialogue and deliberation on issues of strategic importance, rather than an opportunity to review information already provided, redo work already completed by others, or set administrative and/or operational program policy without sufficient study of context, alternatives, consequences, or likely implementation realities.”

1.       Boards are wise to consider how much time they spend in Management, Operations and Activities as this will take time away from Policy and Strategy.

2.       Boards should ask themselves if their decision-making process elicits a continuous stream of information from members, prospective members, customers and stakeholders. They should strive to understand what is important to a broad community of stakeholders.

3.       Boards should evaluate their current governance system (including structure and process) to determine if it enables or hinders them from effectively changing priorities to ensure relevance to their members’ changing marketplaces.

4.       Boards should be able to define what constitutes value to their members. Instead of being power-driven, boards should strive to be value-driven.

5.       Boards who are moving from a constituency-based board to a competency-based board must remember that they still have to have a sufficient connection with their membership.

The Role of Knowledge in Governance

“Knowledge creating is the act of taking relatively random data from a broad spectrum and translating it into a meaningful, insightful context through study, investigation, observation, and experience.”

6.       Successful boards recognize the importance of collecting and using knowledge in their decision-making process. This helps the association establish itself as a knowledge leader which provides value to their members as well as the larger community.

7.       Successful associations must be committed to research. It should be budgeted as an ongoing functional line item.

8.       Successful boards constantly ask the following questions: Whom do we serve? What needs is the association best positioned to meet? How will the association meet those needs?

9.       Successful association staff members know where to find relevant information and know how to transform this knowledge into meaningful information to be shared with board members. Staff should be careful to give the right kind of information and to ask the right kinds of questions of the board—it should revolve around the execution of strategy and not operations.

10.       Successful boards are conscientious of time and therefore are less tolerant of information designed primarily to demonstrate how busy staff or committees have been.

11.       Successful boards are known to make their decisions and the rationale behind those decisions more accessible to their members.

12.       Successful governance is evolving from retreat-driven, product-oriented, traditional strategic planning to a process of ongoing strategic thinking.

The Role of Trust in Governance Systems

“Creating and sustaining a culture of trust becomes imperative for success as an association develops strategies for a more responsive and effective governance structure. Trust can be considered the alignment of what an association has promised with what it ultimately delivers to important stakeholder groups such as members, volunteer leaders, staff, legislators, and the general public.”

13.       Trust allows an association to eliminate needless controls which in turn increases nimbleness and responsiveness.

14.       Trust is strengthened as groups work together and create strategy.

15.       Trust is derived from openness and the communication of ideas. Therefore boards of highly competitive professions or industries are challenged to create a safe haven for those around the board table to dialogue freely about the issues that will mutually benefit the industry, profession, or cause the organization represents.

The Role of Nimbleness in Governance Systems

“Nimble organizations allow thoughtful groups, guided by strategic principles, to determine whether the work they propose to do in support of the organizations’ agreed-upon outcomes fits within the parameters of strategic direction and governance’s intent, without having to seek permission from management or governance before they act.”

16.       Nimble associations have strategic plans that are focused on delivering external value and benefit to members.

17.       Nimble associations have clear focus.

18.       Nimble associations should have a set of boundaries based on values, which then empowers association staff to make decisions at an operational level without direct board involvement.

19.       Nimble associations should have a process for analyzing their portfolio of programs and services and aligning them with its future strategy.

20.       Nimble associations have a commitment to leadership succession so they will be able to pass the baton to future leadership successfully.

That’s it… Check the book out!

Want some more quick tips? Check out 21 Tips for Better Board Meetings.

What type of books are you reading at the moment and are there any you recommend to those involved with governance? Tell us in the comments!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Governance: Foundation vs. Association

Image Credit: Bernadette Gatsby
Image Credit: Bernadette Gatsby

By Whitney Bertram, operations manager 

These ideas are inspired by the session “Get Your Governance House in Order” at the ASAE Annual Meeting on August 10, 2014, presented by John Bartoletti, M.Ed.; Michael Butera; Eileen Johnson Esq.; and E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D.


If you create a foundation, foundation board members need to be separate from association board members.

The board should be selected for expertise, such as expertise in fundraising, management, finance, public relation and a passion for the foundation mission.

Consider asking foundation board members to pay/raise a certain amount of money to sit on the board.

Association Boards

Association boards should refrain from being involved in operations, but instead be involved in a higher level of policy setting. Ideally, the day to day management of the association should be handled by staff with expertise and specialized training in providing administrative services to trade associations, professional societies and educational foundations.

For every “member benefit” proposed, ask if it is what the members want and if there is a return on investment. A “good idea” isn’t a good idea if it doesn’t connect with members and carry its own weight.

Reduce the size of the board. When an association has a large board, executive committees sometimes become “a board within a board.” Smaller boards are more nimble with decision making.

The board should not have to review and act on any and all governance. Committees should be established that have specific expertise. Watch for duplication of committee efforts and silos. Consider forming task forces instead of committees. Don’t forget, task forces have a beginning and end.

Conduct board orientation and training. Make sure training is held regularly to keep everyone sharp and each member of the board contributing. Ask board members to complete self-evaluation forms periodically. See BoardSource from ASAE for more information on board self-assessment for associations.

Do you have more questions about foundations or association boards? Ask us in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Bridging the Gap: The Bully on the Board

2015-3-17 the bully on the board
Image Credit: Jared Erondu

Lee Campbell, Executive Director & Director of Conference

These ideas are inspired by the session “Tackling the Turbo Bully on Your Board” at the ASAE Annual Meeting on August 10, 2014, presented by Mark Alcorn, Sandra Giarde, and Jamie Notter.

We all have a pretty good idea of what a bully looks like on the playground, but what does it look like when you have a “bully” on the board?

A bully is not someone who simply asks questions or occasionally offers a “contrary” opinion. (It’s very valuable to have people on the board who have the courage to say “no!”) A board bully uses intimidation to silence ideas, ignores the bylaws and policies, is self-focused rather than keeping the needs of the association in mind, and undermines the board decisions.

So, what do you do when you have a bully on the board?

Help Win the Fight by Offering:

  • Compelling Vision
    • Make sure the board is very clear on the mission so it becomes obvious when a bully starts to take everyone off course.
  • Board Training
    • Make sure the board volunteers have a strong sense of their voice. Yearly board training is essential for old and new volunteers to be well aware of the bylaws, policies, chain of command, and their legal duties.
  • Mentors Assigned to New Volunteers
    • New volunteers will follow the old and experienced board members.

Tools For Your Toolbox:

  • Establish Policies
    • Make sure you have job descriptions, conflict of interest policies, and antitrust statements in place. Develop a sample policy of misconduct and how a member of the board of directors can be removed.
  • Pre-screening of Volunteers during Nomination Process
    • The nominating committee should identify bullying behaviors before acceptance to the board.
  • Resolution Skills
    • Ask the bully questions to understand why the behavior is happening.
    • Move towards the conflict to achieve greater understanding instead of skirting around the issue.
    • Early detection and intervention is essential so the issue doesn’t have a chance to grow. Keep behavior observable. Remind the bully about the impact of their behavior on the board and on the association.
  • Alert the board leaders responsible for discipline.

There are also legal considerations so be sure to keep documentation. Consult legal counsel and other experts such as HR advisers and risk managers.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Creating Strong Leadership Teams

2015-2-10 Creating Strong Leadership Teams
Image Credit: Joshua Earle

Jalene Bowersmith, Executive Director

Tom Rath’s book Strengths Based Leadership builds on the basic principles discussed in the well-known book StrengthsFinder. Gallup has studied the strengths of well knowns leaders from around the world for over 30 years. Their research – condensed into this book – discusses what strengths the most successful leaders have and what great teams (their followers) need and expect from exceptional leaders.

Many of us have read books about leadership and the five, seven or 10 characteristics of successful leaders. However, Rath points out that the fastest way to fail at leadership is to lead by imitation. In Gallup’s studies there is only one characteristic that all strong leaders share; successful leaders know their strengths and limitations. They use their strength like “a carpenter uses his tools.” A leader cannot be all things to all people. However, by knowing their strengths and limitations strong leaders are able to focus on what they do well and surround themselves with individuals strong in the areas where they are weak, creating a strong supportive team.

Building strong teams takes time and energy. Getting individuals with diverse, yet complementary strengths on a team is a good start. But that is not enough to make a team successful. Leaders must continually invest in each person’s strengths and build better relationships among the group. What are the signs of a strong teams? Gallup’s research shows that strong, successful teams share the following characteristics:

Focus on results – Instead of becoming more isolated during difficulty times strong teams come together. They gain strength from cohesion. They can argue, but in the end they know they are all working towards the same goal.

Prioritize what’s best for the organization – They consistently put what is best for the organization ahead of their egos. Once a decision is made the team rallies to help one another be successful.

Commitment to personal and work life – They bring the same level of energy to their family and social lives as they do to their companies. They feel their lives are balanced.

Embrace diversity –   A team that embraces diversity of age, gender, race, and strengths brings balance to the whole. Teams that are engaged view individuals through the lens of their strengths, thereby eliminating superficial barriers.

Magnets for talent – Everyone wants to be on a strong team. Your star players see that they can make an impact and demonstrate their strengths.

Effective leaders bring together a broad group of people to carry out an organization’s goals. In order to understand why leaders are successful it is not only important to understand what a strong team looks like, but why people follow that leader. From 2005-2008 Gallup polled 10,000 followers (average people). They determined that there are four things that followers look for in a good leader:

Trust – Once a trusting relationship is established people can complete projects in the fraction of the time and become a high performing team.

Compassion – Leaders that care about their team project a more positive energy. People want to follow leaders that exude a positive bias.

Stability – Transparency is the best way to quickly create a feeling of stability in a group.

Hope – Followers want hope for the future and guidance on how to get there. Knowing that things can and will be better in the future is an excellent motivator.

Knowing the characteristics of strong teams and understanding what teams look for in successful leaders provides us with the tools for better leadership and building more successful teams. Whether the team you work with is association or AMC staff, a volunteer board or committee members, knowing what makes a strong team and what they are looking for in a leader is the first step to creating strong leadership teams.

For more information on StrengthsFinder and strengths-based leadership check out this post.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.