This season prior to Christmas is known in church calendars as the season of Advent, the time of “waiting” for Christmas to arrive, re-enacting the period of waiting for the birth of the Messiah. Advent is a season of Hope. This year, perhaps more than any other, we need to hold on to hope. In attending a virtual church service this weekend, the subject of the sermon struck me as applicable, not just personally, but to organizations, and in particular, their boards. We were asked whether we were spending this time just waiting, or spending it preparing. Preparing our minds, seeking wisdom; preparing our hearts, seeking what is good; preparing our actions, seeking to do positive things.
In this year when so much is different, has your board simply been waiting? Yes, doing what is necessary to protect staff and those you serve, but at the back of your mind just thinking you’ll wait it out, until things become more or less “normal” again, whatever that may look like? I’ve seen boards waiting – waiting to do real monitoring, except perhaps for absolute essentials, waiting to engage in meaningful education, waiting to engage with owners, waiting to re-envision their Ends, or the purpose of their organizations. This was a very reasonable approach for a short-term crisis, but a very short-sighted approach for what has become a long-term situation.
Instead of waiting, I’d like to challenge you to spend this time preparing. The world will not go back to exactly the way it was. We all know that. But are we truly preparing for the “new normal”? Does your board need to rethink the purpose of your organization? Will the impact of COVID result in needing to stick to that purpose even more firmly, or needing to modify it in some way to produce different results? Will there be different results for different groups of people?
Have you returned to a normal monitoring cycle? Delaying monitoring in the short-term allowed management teams to concentrate fully on crisis mode operations, but a long-term hiatus in monitoring can result in the board being unaware of potential dangers, or unaware that achieving the organizations’ purpose is in jeopardy.
I’ve noticed many boards putting off educational opportunities because their preferred method is to have an in-person presentation or facilitated event. I know, this would be the preference for many of us, including those who provide the education. However, there is a danger of a board falling behind, whether it is in relation to future-oriented information to help the board exercise strategic foresight, or in relation to improving your governance function. Virtual options abound, and at least until it is safe to re-engage in person, delaying education is simply waiting, rather than preparing. While we all anticipate the roll-out of vaccines, the reality is that even if everything goes smoothly, it’s still going to be months before usual pre-COVID approaches can be resumed, and there are still many unknowns. Use this time to prepare to be the best board you can be. Plan now for what you will embrace as the new year approaches, so your organization will not just survive, but thrive, in 2021 and beyond.