Is Your Board Equipped to Deal With Disruption?

Author: David McMillin       

As the pace of disruption continues to accelerate, one organization spent the last decade reevaluating its approach to selecting and grooming leadership.

When Joel Albizo joined the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB) as its CEO in 2007, he knew he had plenty of work ahead. “The organization was functional,” Albizo told an audience of association CEOs at digitalNow in Austin, on May 8, “but it lacked direction.”

Albizo was facing an issue that many organizations struggle to confront with their boards: a lack of effectiveness. In a 2016 study of 187 board directors conducted by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, only 23 percent of board members believed that their boards were good at giving direct feedback to each other. Some of the biggest challenges in the Stanford study — a lack of honest opinions, a rush to come to a consensus, and a failure to invite the active participation of all members — may have been part of CLARB’s challenges, but Veronica Meadows, CAE, senior director of strategy at the organization, highlighted the core challenge: a failure to ask questions about the big picture that will be shaped by new technologies.

“Our leaders’ responsibilities should involve asking the profound and strategic questions,” Meadows said at digitalNow. “If our leaders aren’t thinking about digital transformation, it’s a big problem.”

For CLARB, new technologies aren’t the only concern. The organization’s mission is rooted in establishing and promoting professional licensure standards for members to protect public health and welfare, and the need for those standards is under attack. “There is a big push to create a reduced regulatory environment,” Albizo said. “For us, that is very scary.”

Rather than running from those fears, Albizo said that the organization has used “disruption to motivate change.” One of the first components involved adding a “duty of foresight” to the responsibilities of the board of directors. “Our board recognized that we were missing the forward-looking view,” Meadows said. “Now, part of their fiduciary responsibility is thinking about what might happen instead of talking about the trends that are already happening.”

In addition to thinking about the future, being on the board of directors comes with a mandatory homework assignment: Read Good to Great by Jim Collins. “What makes this book amazing is that the message isn’t ‘you need to improve,’” Albizo said. “It just reminds everyone to constantly strive for better.”

CLARB’s journey to a new kind of board of directors will also reimagine the way the majority of directors occupy their positions. The roles of president and treasurer will be elected in a traditional voting process, but the rest of the members will be appointed by a new leadership development council tasked with identifying who will best fill the organization’s needs.

If you’re looking to reimagine the role your organization’s board plays in shaping a long-term strategy, you’ll need one essential ingredient — patience. Albizo said that the entire process took nearly 10 years. “This is not an overnight process,” he told the digitalNow audience, “but it can be sped up. You have to think about where you want your organization and design a leadership strategy to get there.”

Have you made any changes to the way your board of directors thinks about its responsibilities? Go to Catalyst to share your challenges and your thoughts on building a successful group of leaders to oversee your organization.

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