Good Governance: Many Board Problems Boil Down to Communications Challenges

Michael G. Daigneault, CCD Photo
Quantum Governance L3C
Jennie Boden Photo
Quantum Governance L3C

3 minutes

Directors need to ask good, hard questions—to ‘trust but verify’ in a respectful and professional manner—all toward the good of the credit union.

A great number of the governance challenges that we come across in the work that our firm, Quantum Governance, L3C, undertakes with credit unions can be boiled down to matters of communications. 

  • Are your board members crossing over into day-to-day operations?  Well … have their roles and responsibilities been clearly defined, updated and effectively communicated to them?
  • Are there two or three members of your board who are coming to meetings ill-prepared each and every month (or even just one)? It’s probably time for your board or governance committee chair to have a heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation with those directors.
  • Is the relationship between your board and CEO riddled with micromanagement, executive sessions and a lack of trust? It’s possible that you stopped having authentic, open dialogue far too long ago.

After years of surveying credit union board members, supervisory committee members, CEOs and senior staff members, Quantum Governance, along with CUES, recently published The State of Credit Union Governance 2018: Five Data-Driven Recommendations for Future Success. In it were three key findings relative to the need for more open, trusting communications that both surprised and troubled us. We encourage you to take notice of them and discuss these key findings with your board. If your credit union is struggling with any of these issues, it might be time to polish your own communications skills—individually and as a group.

Key Finding No. 1: More than a third of respondents surveyed reported that their board does only an adequate or less than adequate job of asking the hard questions that need to be asked. 

Key Finding No. 2: Thirty-nine percent of respondents reported that their board is only adequate or less than adequate at holding each other accountable.

Key Finding No. 3: And only 25 percent of CEOs and 27 percent of senior staff reported that their boards are very effective at building a leadership culture of trust—compared to 53 percent of supervisory committee members and 44 percent of board members.
So, what’s happening at all of these credit unions? 

We were recently working with a credit union that received what we would term below average scores on survey questions regarding “accountability” and “asking the hard questions.” 

“Where do we begin?” they asked. Luckily for them, their score on the “trust” question was particularly high—a good starting ground and a place from which to build. They were quick to say that they all got along and worked well together—maybe too well together, perhaps? 

How many of your board votes are unanimous? Are your board members held accountable when it’s appropriate? And, how many hard questions are you asking in your board meetings?

The mark of a good board is not unanimity or harmony 100 percent of the time. Your job as a board member is to ask good, hard questions. To trust but verify. In a respectful and professional manner. All toward the good of the credit union. Be authentic. Be direct. Be open. Keep your promises. Keeping promises builds trust, and you’ll need to rely on strong relationships of trust while you’re holding each other accountable in the boardroom. 

Speaking of accountability: Hold each other accountable as board members. Ask the hard questions that need to be asked. It’s among your most fundamental roles as board members.cues icon

Michael Daigneault, CCD, is CEO of Quantum Governance L3C, Herndon, Va., CUES’ strategic provider of governance services. Daigneault has more than 30 years of experience in the field of governance, management, strategy, planning and facilitation, and served as an executive in residence at CUES Governance Leadership Institute

Jennie Boden serves as the firm’s managing director of strategic relationships and a senior consultant. She has 25 years of experience in the national nonprofit sector and served as the chief staff officer for two nonprofits before coming to Quantum Governance.

Quantum Governance provides credit unions, corporations, nonprofits, associations and governmental entities with strategic, cost-effective governance, ethics and management consulting, facilitation and evaluation.

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