Photo credit: Depositphotos
By Jeb Banner, CEO, Boardable
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how boards of directors across all industries manage their operations. Board members have both taken on additional responsibilities and tightened budgetary belts to lead their organizations through the pandemic. Digital initiatives were meant to help board members do exactly that, and the pandemic spurred 69% of boards to accelerate digital growth plans. Years-long digital transformation initiatives were suddenly completed overnight.
Rapid digital transformation worked for many boards as a short-term solution, but they now face the challenges of adapting to a new normal of board operations. Digital tools offer many benefits, but organizations also need the right resources and preparation to use them most effectively. Doing this can help board members feel prepared and engaged, key for long-term sustainable growth within the new normal.
Review digital tools and board operations to streamline
When organizations transitioned to remote operations, key information sometimes got lost in the shuffle. Boards more accustomed to printed board books and documents suddenly transitioned to digital files and cloud storage solutions. On top of that, they were juggling virtual meeting platforms and online communication tools, all of which can overwhelm even the most tech-savvy board members.
Adopting digital tools to manage operational processes offered a great starting point. But, in the rush to go digital, organizations may have fallen prey to “digital duct tape” — simply adding tools to solve short-term issues instead of long-term growth. Now’s a good time to audit your tools and determine where you can streamline, potentially moving everything onto a single digital board engagement solution to manage every aspect of your board’s operations.
You may have other long-term needs to consider, too. For example, board bylaws may not have technically allowed voting on business remotely. Boards may have suspended those rules temporarily, but as short-term decisions become part of the new normal, other technicalities might need to be revisited. Review your bylaws and other functional elements guiding operations with board members and adjust as needed.
Conduct effective virtual meetings to use time well
With information better organized, leaders can turn their attention toward board meetings themselves. Fully remote meetings likely surprised and maybe frustrated boards accustomed to in-person meetings. While many used the opportunity to advance digital initiatives, the same kinds of preparation still matter for running meetings well and using time most effectively.
As with any board meeting, the agenda helps organizations maximize their time with board members. An effective meeting agenda provides an organized list of actionable items. Each item should be assigned to a board or staff member and given a set amount of time for discussion. Tasks from previous meetings and supporting documents should be tied to their respective agenda items, making it easy for board members to know where matters stand.
Share the agenda and supporting documents with board members well ahead of time, ideally one week in advance Also practice with any digital solutions beforehand and offer detailed instructions on its use. Early preparation can alleviate the concerns that would otherwise consume board members’ focus, helping them feel engaged and ready.
Manage expectations between meetings to retain momentum
Board members might show an initial burst of impassioned energy when they assume new responsibilities, but without proper maintenance, that energy will probably falter by the next meeting. Giving board members more work without setting accurate and reasonable expectations can lead to them doing too much, too quickly, potentially hurting their overall board contributions.
Moving to a virtual setting has offered a chance to revisit your board members’ commitment expectations. The pandemic has affected every board member’s capacity, so it’s important to be aware and redistribute work or reassign leadership as necessary. Candid conversations with each board member can help reveal key areas where they’re struggling and let you shift members to fill gaps.
Organizations should also provide clear sets of expectations on what’s needed now, when it needs to be done, and where board members can plug in. With clearly defined touch points and spaces for open communication, members can take on tasks, track progress and understand their contributions within the larger picture. Digital board engagement tools can create lines of communication and increase board members’ visibility between meetings. These toolkits help keep momentum alive and make the time between meetings as enriching and productive as the meetings themselves.
While the new normal is still new, it presents opportunities to reshape board operations with digital solutions and help board members engage effectively. They’re passionate about your organization and want to contribute to its success. With the right resources and preparation, you can maximize their contributions and engage them for long-term growth.
Jeb Banner is CEO and co-founder of Boardable, a board management software company serving nonprofits around the world. Previously the CEO of SmallBox, a creative agency he co-founded in 2006, Jeb is also the founder of Musical Family Tree, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading Indiana music, and co-founder and past chair of The Speak Easy, an entrepreneurial co-working nonprofit located in Indianapolis, IN. Along the way Jeb has co-founded or invested in a number of other Indianapolis-based businesses. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Jenny and their three lovely daughters. In his spare time, Jeb collects vinyl records, records music, and cooks as much as possible.
Boardable is an online board management and meeting portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning, and everything involved with running a board of directors. Founded in 2016 by nonprofit leaders and founders, Boardable has a mission to improve board engagement for nonprofits. Boardable is based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Learn more at www.boardable.com.