We can do better.
For more years than I sometimes care to admit, I’ve traveled the country consulting with credit union boards of directors and CEOs. One of the questions that frequently arises in our discussions is:
How can we make our board meetings better?
Better is certainly an aspirational – but also amazingly ambiguous – term. I’ve learned it can mean remarkably different things to different credit union leaders. For example, in the context of board meetings, I have been told better means:
- more strategic discussions,
- shorter meetings,
- a more engaging experience,
- an opportunity to hear everyone’s voice,
- more efficient meetings,
- fewer – but longer – meetings,
- meetings that produce more effective decisions,
- a more robust accountability culture,
- meetings giving clearer direction to staff and
- meetings producing greater consensus.
These are all well intended, but also all over the map! It makes me wonder what’s really happening at many monthly credit union board meetings?
Is this what the agenda looks like at your credit union’s board meeting? The chair calls the meeting to order and offers a brief set of general remarks or report. There’s then a CEO report, often followed by financial, staff and committee reports. There’s little time for genuine dialogue or discussion. Indeed, the agenda is often centered on telling the board various types of information – reinforcing the board’s role as overseers or fiduciaries.
Old School Meetings
Historically, most credit union board meetings have largely emphasized the board’s formal role. A routine (even rote) agenda has been frequently use to move efficiently (often thought of as “quickly”) from one report, informational item or policy issue to another. Board members were on hand to receive information or data, provide the required fiduciary oversight and make quick or final decisions when necessary. Many such decisions tended to be made immediately or even in advance of the board meeting. Tough questions – or even meaningful dialogue – were often viewed as hindering or even obstructing the meeting.
In today’s credit union environment, however, this board meeting paradigm does not work particularly well. I often wonder if a critical mass of credit union boards even know they’re likely stuck in an outdated way of conducting their meetings? Why do I ask?
Because the board meeting of the future looks remarkably different from the board meeting of the past.
New School Meetings
Yes, the chair still opens the meeting and offers some remarks, but now he or she notes unique elements for the meeting’s success. It’s the chair’s responsibility to help his or her colleagues focus, and set a tone that invites meaningful exchange. Such items as routine reports, informational items, administrative changes, minor alterations to policy and the like can often be included in a “consent agenda” and approved with a simple vote. Likewise, a thoughtful dashboard presented by the CEO can be used to efficiently and effectively highlight the critical indicators of your credit union’s efforts.
After asking any needed clarification questions of the CEO or senior team, you and your director colleagues are then able to transition to the other central agenda items for the day: one or more strategic or educational discussions designed to help your credit union move forward.
What would the members of your board do if, aside from the chair’s remarks, a consent agenda and an effective dashboard review, there was a significant strategic question posed for consideration and discussion, and you had more than an hour in which to really discuss it? How do you think your board colleagues would respond to such an experiment? Would they be open to the possibility or change?
I strongly suggest you consider evolving your board agendas from emphasizing the formal role of your board to focusing on the board’s influential and persuasive role as well. Vary the agenda items and include open spaces for dialogue and deliberation where questions can be posed and collective learning can take place.
Chairs, develop agendas that encourage strategic questions and dialogue from your colleagues. CEOs, you can help by identifying real strategic questions facing the credit union. In partnership with the chair, highlight such questions by building an agenda item around them.
While I do not suggest that credit union volunteers or executives lessen their focus on fiduciary oversight, I do suggest they can meet smarter and more effectively. Namely, that board meetings focused predominantly on information or data exchange are not enough. I urge them to remember that vision, strategy and effective governance are among the board’s central responsibilities. The structure and culture of board meetings can greatly assist—or impede—such vital responsibilities.
Michael Daigneault, CCD, is CEO of Quantum Governance L3C, a CUES strategic provider. Daigneault has more than 30 years of experience in the field of governance, management, strategy, planning and facilitation. He has also served as an executive in residence at CUES Governance Leadership Institute.