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By John Talbot, Ph.D.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

During my presentation, Effectively Positioning Residential Programming In a Changing Market, at the 2011 OPEN MINDS Planning and Innovation Institute last month, we addressed the innovations that are shaping our market and the need for organizations to embrace these changes (quickly) as they plan for the future. An interesting theme emerged during the session – a number of the executive attendees brought up the challenge that they have in keeping their boards of directors aligned with the need for change.

There are three important things that executives can do to keep their boards of directors “on board” with the need for changes in strategy – market intelligence, mission focus, and agreement on performance metrics.

Market intelligence is critical for boards – keeping them informed of the trends affecting the business and the ethics of health and human services is key. It is absolutely critical that they understand the context in which your organization is operating, or you will run the risk of the board not understanding why changes in strategy may be required. This is not about providing lots of detailed information to the board – it is about delivering summarized, synthesized information about strategic drivers that will help them understand environmental context.

The second key is mission focus – particularly keeping your board focused on mission during your strategic development process. During my session, Vonzā Thompson, President and CEO of the Fred Finch Youth Center in Oakland, shared her experience in helping her organization to successfully transition from almost exclusively providing residential programming, to an organization that primarily offers community-based programming. By focusing on the Fred Finch Youth Center’s vision, Ms. Thompson was able to focus on serving children and youth through the best means possible, rather than focusing on how they usually provided services.

Last but certainly not least, the board must agree on the measures of success. My recommendation is to develop a set of key performance indicators (KPI) with your board at the end of the strategic planning process. This is the organizational “scorecard” that allows the executive team to communicate with the board about how well the organization and its management team are doing in operationalizing strategy. The KPIs should become the key form of communication between the chief executive and the board. They provide common focus and a tool to keep all directors focused on the “big picture” of the road ahead.

If you have tips on keeping boards of directors in tune with the changing market, I would like to hear from you at


John F. Talbot, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President, OPEN MINDS

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To read more about working with non-profit boards, see: Advice To Board Members: Eyes On, Hands Off all members

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