Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

March 12, 2019

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Andrew Bergen

Peter, Paul and Mary

The work patterns for my wife and I allow us to travel to the office together in the morning. We park underground at her office complex and, from there, I walk to my office. The parking underground sure is nice in winter! 

When we first started this travel pattern, in the middle of winter, we noticed there were three pigeons always hanging out in the parking garage. We have affectionately named them Peter, Paul and Mary. For a while, I thought it was quite intelligent for them to have found a warmer home for the winter months. Yet, when spring arrived, Peter, Paul and Mary continued to make their living inside. They remained there through the summer and into the next winter as well. They had grown quite comfortable living in the shelter of the garage. I was saddened to see this, as they have the potential to be flying through the warm, blue skies in the spring, summer and fall. I would imagine they have grown so comfortable in their garage home that venturing past it doesn’t even cross their minds.

Some years ago, I heard a conference speaker say that she had noticed a pattern in some of the organizations she was working with. She took a school district as an example and explained: “In a school district, the janitor is thinking ahead through his or her day and maybe even the week ahead: what the next task will be, how to organize the work so that the day and week end safely and productively. The maintenance supervisor, in turn, is looking ahead for the next 30 to 90 days. What inventory needs to be ordered? What are the larger projects in the area that need to be scheduled and coordinated? The district Assistant Superintendent in charge of facilities is likely looking ahead 1 – 3 years. What are the larger renewal plans that need to be managed and maintained? How will district resources be used best to achieve an overall healthy district use of facilities? The Superintendent then is likely thinking 5 or more years into the future with larger strategic initiatives for student outcomes. Then, you get to the board table – and they are often looking at last month’s financial statements.” 

Isn’t that somewhat ironic? Should the board not be the one who is way out in front of the organization assessing what results must be achieved 5 or 10 (or more) years in the future?

I’ve sat on boards similar to that described by the presenter – and even led meetings in that way. I’ve also had the good privilege of seeing many boards who have their eyes on the future thinking about what long-term results would make the existence of the organization worthwhile.

Where is your board spending its time? As you read through your agenda, I’d encourage you to assess what portion of meeting time is spent on the past? Items like Old Business, Business Arising from the Minutes, Reports from staff and board members are all likely to be focused on matters that have already occurred. Even monitoring CEO and board performance is past focused (albeit necessary). A future focused board will have its agenda weighted more on matters that discuss the results the organization should be producing (Ends Policies), or on education that helps the board think about what future scenarios might be present. 

Boards that live in the past may be at risk of the same lifestyle as Peter, Paul and Mary – an existence, but far from their potential.

The Governance Coach has examples of agendas that are future focused. We would be happy to chat with you about where you are at and help you think through where you would like to be.

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