Thursday, January 10, 2013

Helping the Decision-Impaired Board

 "I think we qualify as a decision-impaired board!"

Is your board decision-impaired? You may recognize the symptoms:
  • A sense that the board is spinning its wheels and rehashing old issues.
  • Heated discussions based on few facts but lots of opinions.
  • Awkward moments when the board realizes it has lost track of the original topic.
  • The frequent introduction of “wildcard” issues which were not originally on the agenda.
  • An inability to explain to members why the board made a certain decision.
  • A decision is ostensibly agreed to by the entire board but in reality not supported by every board member.
  • A nagging feeling that decisions, when they are finally made, do not represent the best thinking of the board.
Is it possible for the decision-impaired board to improve? Take heart for the answer is yes. Let’s look at how to target a board’s competency in decision-making:

Step 1 – Self-Assessment: 
In order to improve, the board will first need a framework for understanding its overall strengths and weaknesses during group decision-making. It needs to answer three basic questions:
  1. How do individuals in the group prefer to make decisions, process information and set priorities? What are respective strengths and weaknesses of the individuals in the group?
  2. In what ways do these differences in individual styles lead to either to conflict or harmony among the board.
  3. What is the group’s overall strengths and weaknesses? Is there a balance of different decision-making styles or is the group top-heavy in one area but not another?
What is the best way to assess the board? The Leadership Spectrum Profile®. The profile identifies six types of priorities a person is likely to favor and how that priority influences his or her decision-making process:
 Leadership Spectrum Profile 

Innovation and survival
Develop new ideas, products and services
Fast growth
Gain market share and win customers/new members
Manage risk and establish order
Build infrastructure, create systems and processes for high performance
Maximize results
Improve processes and procedures  for effective resource utilization and return
Maintain success
Develop committed workforce, build capabilities, & support culture/identity
Position for the future

Surface assumptions, practices, and issues; and create strategic options
© 1998-2002. The Leadership Spectrum Profile®. Enterprise Management Ltd.  All Rights Reserved

Using the Leadership Spectrum profile, one decision-impaired board found all its board members were Challengers or Inventors.  From the standpoint of developing strategy, this was a definite plus, as the association needed to position itself for future.

From an operational standpoint, however, the board was very weak and this was reflected in its chronic inability to make timely and sound decisions. In fact, the association was in jeopardy due to financial difficulties. The board realized it had no individuals who were strong as Developers or Performers. As a consequence, the board paid little attention was paid to metrics for or processes to improve its performance. 

With this realization, it became clear why good decisions about operational issues were hard to come by. The board responded by saying, "Okay, when it comes to issues of performance and board development, we have to slow down, take the time to ask the types of questions a Developer or Performer might ask. In that way we can compensate for our weaknesses in those areas.”
To recap, using the Leadership Spectrum Profile provides a framework so the board understands how to:
  • Balance strategic and operational decisions.
  • Lead and implement change.
  • Develop credible and constructive communication practices.
  • Manage conflict and facilitate creative problem solving .
Step Two – Establish Guidelines for Effective Decision Making:

Once a board understands its strengths and weaknesses in decision-making, it needs a practical set of guidelines and processes. The following set of questions, which represents the steps to sound decision-making, are the basis for those guidelines.

IS THIS A BOARD PRIORITY? Is this issue a priority for the association and for the board? If so, why? Is the board meeting the best venue for addressing this issue? Or can it be addressed in another venue?
WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE?  What is the goal or objective? What is the board trying to accomplish by making this decision? Have we clarified the problem or issue? What is the problem that really needs to be focused on? Does everyone agree we that we have a well-defined problem statement?
WHAT ARE THE FACTS? What's the situation or background? Does the board have all the facts it needs to begin the discussion or should we table the discussion until more information is gathered?
WHAT ARE THE DECISION OPTIONS? What are all the possible decision we might make? Which ones are most feasible or on-target?
WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA? Before we begin making a decision, have we identified and agreed to the criteria we will use to make our decision?
WHAT IS THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS? Are we clear how the group will go about making a final decision? Is it consensus? Majority vote? Another methodology? 

Step Three – Practice!

It is not sufficient to ask the Board to read an article or provide a fifteen minute presentation on decision-making skills. This rarely improves board performance. The fastest, most effective path to improved decision-making is hands-on training; the Board should set aside time so it can practice – go through the process of applying specific skills and guidelines so they understand the practical applications and benefits. I have seen Boards, as a result of a day of practice, make dramatic improvements.

In conclusion, I would like emphasize the following: if you want to improve the decision-making capabilities of your board, you need to invest the time for skills training and hands-on practice.   

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