By Stevie Kernick, owner emeritus and account manager
What would you do if … a board member consistently missed monthly board calls?
It seems like a no-brainer, right. You have a policy, whether it’s found in the bylaws, P&P Manual or the association’s Operating Rules, which clearly states that “after three unexcused absences from board meetings, the director will be replaced,” or something to that effect. The policy is straightforward, fair and reasonable – everyone agrees on that. However, putting the written policy into an actionable item makes most board members squirmy.
As the chief staff executive, you are more removed from the personal relationship and you might offer to “make the call” since emails to this recalcitrant board member have gone unanswered during previous attempts to make contact and determine the reason for these unexplained absences. Has the board member’s workload gotten out of control? Are there health issues or personal family problems involved? After all, if there are legitimate reasons for these absences, no one really wants to withdraw support from a colleague, a friend.
Even after your best efforts, emails still go unanswered and voicemails are not returned. Finally, after four months of discussion, debate and hand-wringing among board members, the president takes responsibility for a final phone call, followed by written notification. The remaining months of the board member’s term are nullified and a replacement is named.
I ask myself, “What took so long? The policy is clear.” Thinking more deeply about this, I realized that each of my volunteer board members can foresee a situation where they might not be able to fulfill their role as a director and, therefore, see themselves in this individual. This fellow board member is, at the least, a professional colleague and, most likely, has become a friend. Pulling the trigger on someone else is tantamount to pulling the trigger on themselves.
I have worked with boards for more than three decades and can count on one hand the number of times a board member was asked to resign, much less told they have been terminated.
What could I have done to help that board through this difficult process? I could have sounded the alarms earlier, as soon as two consecutive board meetings were missed without explanation. I could have contacted the absent board member sooner to bring the problem to the forefront. A good old-fashioned letter is still a form of communication when emails and voicemails go unreturned. I could have coached my executive board with different methods to use to help the board member recommit.
Despite the lengthy process involved in removing this director from the board, I remain thankful to work with a compassionate and selfless group of people who value the contributions that each member can bring to the board and care about the well-being of their fellow directors while seeking to sustain the continuity of their leadership.