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Seven Strategies For Board Engagement With Margaret McNeil

By July 7th, 2023No Comments30 min read
Home » Seven Strategies For Board Engagement With Margaret McNeil

Leadership guidance is a fundamental key to effective board engagement. Douglas Nelson talks with Margaret McNeil about creating alignment in an organization. Clearly, during the pandemic, there were uncontrollable impacts on the management for board engagements. Margaret shares about significant guidelines and crafting the right solutions to develop great collaboration among a company’s members. Join Douglas Nelson and Margaret McNeil in this episode and enrich your mind with board engagement’s elements and benefits. 

Listen to the podcast here:

Seven Strategies For Board Engagement With Margaret McNeil

We have a very special episode focusing on two CEO Roundtables that The Discovery Group hosted on engaging your boards in this virtual environment. Joining me is my colleague Margaret McNeil to talk about her experience with those CEO Roundtables and what she heard.  

Welcome, Margaret. 

Thanks, Doug. It’s great to be here. 

We brought together this group of 25 CEOs because we’d heard a lot about organizations struggling with board engagement in this virtual environment. Before we got everybody together, what were you expecting to hear and what had you been hearing in the community? 

To have the board members be able to speak to impact is a really grounding piece that helps create cohesive alignment for an organization. Click To Tweet

The big factor that we’re all dealing with is the impact of the pandemic. I don’t think I went in with a lot of expectations. I was more curious about what the CEOs themselves and the leaders were going to bring forward. Everything that we thought or potentially might’ve happened had happened. There were some incredible success stories of organizations that we’re able to thrive and create a lot more clarity around purpose and alignment within the organization. We also heard stories where boards had become disengaged because they didn’t know what their role was. We also heard stories about over-engagement because there’s been a lack of clarity on some of those bigger issues. Some boards are diving more into operations. 

Those things create a lot of challenges for leaders. What I was also curious is that some leaders who are new to their roles haven’t even met their board members face-to-face. They came into their roles during the pandemic. Some boards have had significant turnover during the pandemic and a lot of board members have never met each other face-to-face. They’re dealing with these critical issues around the purpose for the board and what the organization is doing where it’s focusing in an environment where people don’t necessarily know each other. That is an incredibly challenging environment to be operating in and leads to rich conversation among the participants. 

You mentioned the CEOs that had started the role during the pandemic. We’ve had a number of those individuals on the show in 2020. What jumps out at me is that there is this feeling as we’re coming to the end of the pandemic that they’re about to start their job again. For some of them, that was exciting and for others, it seemed like a bit of a burden that they were carrying. 

That was certainly there. The other side of that we also heard is there’s that hunger for human connection. So much happens within the hallways, you want a coffee break, and board members connecting with each other saying, “I wanted to talk to you about X,” or tapping the CEO on the shoulder saying, “Can we have a few minutes to talk?” There’s something different about in-person engagement that is different from Zoom engagement. It’s easier to do if you have an existing relationship but more challenging to do if you’ve never even met face-to-face the board member that you’re talking to. It was interesting to see the range of issues that the leaders were dealing with particularly when we all think there’s some light at the end of the tunnel and maybe a little bit of nervousness of what this is going to look like going forward. 

What did you think of the CEOs that felt or shared that some of their board, including the board chairs, were thinking, “We’re going to keep meeting virtually. Attendance is great. We don’t need to come together?” I was surprised that was something that people were even entertaining. 

That was one of the successes during the pandemic. Board attendance went way up because people are not having to drive. When we asked the questions about board effectiveness, there was a collective pause. Just because people are showing up doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re aligned around what their key roles are as board members. Are they focused on the purpose of the organization and helping to drive the organization going forward? 

We’ve worked with some international organizations that have committed that they’re going to continue to do their committee meetings virtually but still seek to have those in-person meetings on a regular basis to maintain that interpersonal connection. One of the things we see when we’re working with boards is that they want two things. One is a closer connection to the mission. They want to hear the stories of how the organization impacts the world for the better. The second one is they want to spend more time interacting with their board colleagues. That certainly has been removed because there’s not that social time and in-between time and these meetings anymore. Organizations may start to be virtual as we come out of this but I wouldn’t be surprised to see primarily back to in-person board meetings. 

It will be interesting when board members need to travel to attend meetings. That becomes a bit of a challenge or their work commitments are making it challenging for them to attend meetings. I’m hoping that there will be some tolerance or management when some board members are attending virtually and in-person. That issue about relationships and human connection are so important because it is different than the human connection. There’s a quality of relationship that gets built when people are face-to-face with each other that doesn’t get built through a virtual environment. That quality of the connection is what I heard the board members were seeking. 

One of the things that we see a lot in organizations where everything is passed unanimously and sometimes, we call it the crush of consensus, is there’s not space to dissent because everybody needs to be on board. If you’re on board and you like this organization, you’re going to be in favor of everything. There isn’t room for that more critique. Some of the CEO shared that their boards are much more open to having discussions, exploring issues, and exploring contrary opinions, whereas others that crush consensus had reached a challenging point where everyone was saying yes to everything. There’s a real balance there. It comes back to where we started when we were thinking about putting this together. You said that there are four themes that jump out for boards and organizations that have been successful through this pandemic. Could you share those with our readers? 

DSP 23 Margaret McNeil | Board Engagement

Board Engagement: There’s a quality of relationship that gets built when people are face-to-face with each other that doesn’t get built through a virtual environment.

Clarifying Purpose 

These four themes are the unifying ones for both boards and the organizations and help create alignment throughout the organization. That first one is about clarifying purpose. The purpose isn’t necessarily mission and vision. It’s an amalgamation of mission, vision, and values. It’s that beacon. Who are we here to serve and what are we here to do? What that does in clarifying purpose is helps lift both the board and the organization up around the theme of what we are here to do, can take away from some of the noise of what are we going to do, and are we getting over-involved or under involved but lifts up everybody to focus on that larger purpose and why the organization exists, who, and what it is there to serve. 

Defining Impact 

The second thing that we heard was around defining impact. It is so powerful for charitable organizations and nonprofits generally to define what their impact is. To be able to describe that to your funders, donors, have your staff see their roles in where the impact is, and have the board members be able to speak to impact is also a grounding piece that helps to create that cohesive alignment. That gets me to the third point, which is aligning purpose throughout all aspects of the board and the organization. 

Every staff member needs to see their role in the purpose of the organization. Every board member needs to see how they as board members are contributing to the purpose of that organization. That alignment is going to sustain the organization through all of the crusts and troughs that every organization goes through. The fourth and last one is about creating an intentional culture for success. Some organizations say, “The person who’s responsible for people and culture owns culture.” The owner owns culture. It can be defined and created in a very deliberate way. Once you’re clear on the culture that you want to create and take a very systematic approach to achieve that, that gives a lift to all of those other pieces about clarifying purpose, defining impact, and creating that alignment. 

That’s important, particularly that last point about culture being owned throughout the organization. I know you’re a great champion for culture in the organizations that you’ve fled and the clients that you’re working with. We shared with the CEOs an article on the principles of creating an intentional culture. That’s been hard when we heard from many of the CEOs to continually reinforce the culture. There was a large rush initially to make sure everybody had what they needed emotionally and physically, do their work, and how we’re going to stay connected as a team. Applying that culture to the day-to-day work that we’ve need to adapt to has been challenging for some. What are those three principles that you’d recommend people pay attention to? What were those three areas that you shared? 

We all know the old adage that culture eats strategy for breakfast. In some CEOs, there’s an assumption that they can’t do anything about the culture. It’s not the case. Culture is driven by everything the CEO says and does, how they engage with staff around culture, and have intentional conversations about it. In looking at how to create an intentional culture, the first one is identifying the organizational truce. Those can be a positive truce and things that aren’t serving the organization well. To have the leader intentionally spend some time surfacing what those are. It helps to give voice to what’s working culture-wise within the organization and what’s not. It gives the opportunity to step into things that they want to change and shift within the organization, not necessarily by the leader, but throughout the organization. 

The second one is there has to be leader buy-in and I would take that further and say it has to be leader-led because the tone is set from the top. To have the leader set the tone for the culture and demonstrate those behaviors that are so critical and define culture, and take those actions that are so critical to defining culture is a very powerful statement and set of actions for the leader to take. The third one is making sure that behaviors and beliefs are aligned with that culture. That is everything from what is written within the job descriptions. How do the statements written within the job descriptions support the culture that a leader is trying to create within an organization?  

What behaviors are supported and not supported? It is very powerful for a leader to step into having a discussion about behaviors when those behaviors may have existed in an organization for a long time but never been challenged. When they get challenged, it all of a sudden gives space for a different conversation to start to take place. I don’t think it’s a quick process but it is so fundamental to leaders stepping into their roles with their organizations and also with their boards that can start to create a very different cultural environment throughout every part of the organization. 

Aligning throughout all aspects of the board and the organization is essential in board engagement. Click To Tweet

You mentioned leader-led and that’s clear when you’re in the organization and you’re thinking you’re in the org chart. When we think of it in the context of working with your board and the intentional culture around the board table, is the leader the board chair, or do you imagine that is something broader than that? 

It’s something broader than that because you may have a board chair who may or may not be aligned around that. For the CEO to lean into a conversation with their board chair and with the board around culture is equally as powerful as doing it with staff because of those issues about an organizational truce. Boards have their truce too. They are sometimes productive and sometimes not. To have the CEO lean into those conversations with the board in a very respectful way can be a powerful tool in helping to shape a very productive board culture.  

You gave an example with some organizations where board members were very passive, yet there are other organizations that we experienced in the Roundtables where there was a spirited discussion happening among the board members even in a virtual environment. To create a culture where people can respectably challenge each other and have those conversations is exactly what we want boards to be doing. The CEO needs to play a key role in helping support that board culture to develop and be supportive. 

It is the responsibility of the CEO as well as the board chair and members of the board. One of the defining hallmarks of what has worked and what has not worked over the pandemic, organizations where there are big walls between what is the CEO’s and the board’s role haven’t fared as well. If the focus is on who’s in control, when we start working with an organization, we know that there are likely some pretty significant problems under the hood. A couple of references to that in the Roundtables and what jumped out at me was the extent to which the CEOs that were participating shared humility, gratefulness, and gratitude toward their boards for how they had stepped up and how they’d been present throughout the pandemic. None of them claimed that it was perfect but the organization, in a lot of ways, the culture that you referenced is stronger because of this shared experience and trauma. How do you think organizations can go about maintaining or sustaining that benefit that they got from “we’re all in this together” around the pandemic? 

The pandemic has been interesting in that it has shone a light on what some of the issues are. What a board does fundamentally hasn’t changed, the way in which it’s doing its work is different. Organizations haven’t changed what they’re doing. They’re changing how they’re going about doing it in order to achieve the same purpose. In the reporting that the CEO does, it’s so important to drive everything back to purpose, alignment, and culture. Boards only get together once every couple of months. A CEO and a leader lives it every single day. For leaders to be bringing that forward in an intentional way to their boards, board meetings, and also in board retreats helps to reinforce that. We all know that behavior is learned and the best way to learn is through repetition. The more a leader can do to keep bringing those issues forward to their boards and senior staff is powerful because it does keep reinforcing that message and supporting the board behavior that we all want to see that is productive. 

We shared the article that many of our readers had read that was in an SSIR about the purpose-driven organization and purpose-driven leadership. One of the things that jumped out at me was the strength of organizations that focused on their purpose and what it is the positive change they’re seeking to make in the world versus the organizations that talk about how the pandemic or how the ecosystem was impacting the organization as a standalone entity. We’ve seen the organizations have been able to talk about the missions they serve have had their donors and stakeholders stay with them far more generously and confidently than those organizations that have made an impact about what the organization is experiencing and why the organization is in hard times.  

Everybody in the external world has been impacted by the pandemic and an organization isn’t going to encourage anyone to make a gift or stand strong. We had a couple of people joined us from the leading visual and performing arts organizations and they were some of the strongest voices for focusing on purpose and moving forward during this pandemic. It depends on how you slice it, but probably the most impacted in the social profit sector have been those visual and performing arts. Did you see anything in how the CEOs for the arts organizations approach this pandemic that could be applied more broadly across the sector? 

The thing that I picked up from those organizations was a realization that this is temporary. This is not defining our organization. It’s having a temporary impact on our organization and how do we see our way through this in order to make sure that we can achieve our purpose. Some were more deeply affected than others were, particularly from a revenue perspective. Those organizations that were focusing on revenue tended to be more inward-focused, where those organizations that were focusing on what our purpose is managed to weather those conversations in a much more productive way and make sure that they were focused on doing the right thing. That was the underlying principle that helped them rise above, move forward during the pandemic, and see that their organization was not at risk in a significant way. They would see it through to the other side. 

Some of the participants came ready with, “Here’s an issue I want to talk about. I want to get on the table. Is anybody else experiencing this?” In the other Roundtables, there was much more of a sitting back and listening to what others were experiencing and applying it to their own experience, but they weren’t bursting or rolling over with the need to address a specific issue. For CEOs that are dealing with those acute challenges that were in the first Roundtables, what advice did you have for them or what learning did you pick up for how they’ve been able to maintain their continuity or their momentum in dealing with some of these real challenges? 

Since we ran the Roundtables, we’ve heard that people were so grateful for the conversation to talk with each other. Reaching out and talking to colleagues to me is such an important piece. They’re missing that connection. Most organizations have been a bit more outward-looking all of the normal vehicles, whether they be conferences or whatever that bring people together have not been happening. They, too, are hungry for that connection and talking with each other about how to address it. One of the things I was so impressed with was the conversation that spontaneously took place between the people who are on the Roundtables about reaching out and offering to help each other and connect outside of the meetings to help solve some of their immediate problems. That sounds small, but that collegiality is an important part that people are all looking for. 

For the organizations that have been successful in moving through this, there’s been very intentional board engagement around doing the right thing and not getting mired in doing the thing right. You obviously have to do the thing right but having intentional conversations with the board about what the purpose of the organization is and recasting those elements that needed to be shifted in order to achieve the purpose and not lose sight of that and focusing on what the role of the board is to me was absolutely critical. At this time, a lot of board members didn’t know what to do and the CEO needed to lean into those discussions to help the boards imagine the future and keep focused on the purpose but also help boards know what their role is and how they can help because boards want to help. It’s that engaging discussion with their boards about those issues that helped those organizations to maintain that future focus throughout the pandemic. 

Let’s transition to the seven tools. The strategies for board engagement that we talked about in the Roundtables. Invitations to the Roundtables, but all readers can benefit from these seven. It’s important to start this off as these are not seven things that we came up with ourselves. Some of them are the best practices we’ve learned from clients that we’re working with, some are ideas we’ve taken from a public company board that we’ve applied and worked with clients to apply in their own organization, and some of them are the ideas that we had to address specific problems in organizations that we’ve been working with. We’re going to share them all and say it in a tone of voice that sounds like we invented all of it.  

DSP 23 Margaret McNeil | Board Engagement

Board Engagement: Purpose isn’t necessarily a mission. And it’s not necessarily vision. It’s an amalgamation of mission, vision, and values.

There are seven. The number one is lightning sessions. These lightening sessions are online 30 to 45-minute virtual education sessions on topics that are issues of interest that can be held monthly or bi-monthly. They are on a specific issue that is hosted by the CEO and can be presented by a member of staff or a member of a key stakeholder group. They’re recorded so board members who can’t join can look at them later, but there are no minutes taken. One of the fundamental ground rules is that there can be no requests for additional work where decisions are made on the part of the board members who are participating in the lightning rounds. It is about being able to get these issues on the table and to give help board members have a deeper understanding of the most important issues that are facing the organization. 

Another key part of that is that onboarding new board members have been a real challenge. For those board members that are normally touring facilities and seeing organizations in action, how do they get their handle on what’s going on within the organization? These lightning sessions are a way to help create that bridge as well as keep board members up to date on what’s happening within the organization without the expectation of any more work. 

The second strategy for board engagement, and this is true in virtual or in-person, but it quickly becomes my favorite way to get board members leaning in and discussing the most important issues. That’s by using the CEO report to start meetings ideally before even the consent agenda, but sometimes after the consent agenda, it requires the CEO to write a substantial report that goes in the board package. As soon as the meeting gets started, have the CEO talk for 60 to 90 seconds tops. It’s not about reading the report or adding color to what was written in the report. It is giving a very brief overview about what is most important or what we’re hoping we can start the discussion on provide 1 or 2 starter questions or you can plant them with a member of the board to ask them of the CEO. 

Let the board know that board members are expected to participate in the discussion. Ask questions and provide advice around the issues that are raised in that CEO report rather than waiting for people to have their census dulled by the committee report, and then in the final ten minutes, talking about what matters most. Put what matters most at the top of the agenda, let the CEO shaped that agenda so that it is directly relevant to the way the organization is working on a day-to-day basis and you’ll find you’re getting the very best out of your board members. 

There’s another added benefit to that as well. That’s not in a CEO report saying that everything is going well. Board members want to hear what isn’t going well, what hasn’t gone well, and what has been done to address the issue. There’s no intention here in the CEO reports to create a rosy picture about progress but to help the board understand some of the thorny issues that the leaders are dealing with within the organization. That engages them around purposes as well and this is a great opportunity to help do that. 

Another way to help do that is the third strategy for engagement. 

Reduce The Size Of The Board Packages

That third strategy sounds radical but reduces the size of the board packages. In an organization I was previously involved with, we realized that a lot of the information that had been provided was not being read. We thought, “Why are we doing this if it’s not being read?” We dramatically reduced the size of the board package to look at what was essential and what was not. You need to confirm that with your board and your committee chairs about what has to be included and what can be cut. You give the board what’s essential but not necessarily in a fully comprehensive way. I have found that board members generally thank you because they read it. If you make the consent agenda a separate document from the rest of the board package, it’s up to the board members to read that to reduce the size of the board packages to those essential items and often done in a graphic way. It can be very engaging because the board members are seeing the most essential information that they need to see right upfront. 

Great alignment is going to sustain the organization through all of the crusts and all of the troughs that every organization goes through. Click To Tweet

The more that we can make it as straightforward as possible for board members who want to contribute in a very meaningful and positive way, the better. By putting the issues that matter most first and foremost in the package, whether through the CEO report and the reports that follow, help you get the best advice and the best decisions. It reduces “what we should do?” When board members think that they’re going to help by recreating a line of business or taking us off an entirely new strategic pathway. If we’re giving them the packages that say, “This is what’s most important.” In my experience, that’s what the meetings end up being about. When the board packages are 100-plus or 60-plus pages, the board meetings tend to be about whatever occurs to people once they’ve lost their attention reading those longboard packages. This is the way to keep everybody focused. What’s the fourth one? 

Giving The Board A Timeline

The fourth one is an artifact of the pandemic because some boards know that people are being immunized or saying, “What’s next? How we’re going to come out of the pandemic? What is it going to look like? We want to see a plan.” Given that it’s too early to know, the CEO leader needs to step into that discussion and set a timeline for the post-pandemic planning and governance review. Not that the board is questioning that you’re not going to do it, they just want to know when. By giving the board a timeline, you have addressed and stay focused on the issues knowing that in 2 to 4 months or when the time is right, you as a leader are going to be coming forward with that discussion around post-pandemic planning and governance review. 

Providing Role Clarity For Board Directors 

It’s so important to reduce ambiguity wherever possible because a lot of our organizations and all of us, in general, are suffering from ambiguity more than change fatigue or even more than boredom. Anything you can do to make it clear that those important long-term discussions are going to happen. Now is not the right time. You want to do that in the fall and make that clear to the board that’s when that opportunity will be there. The fifth one is about providing role clarity for board directors in each agenda item. One of the things that we hear a lot from board members when we’re doing governance reviews or participating in strategic planning is that they don’t know exactly what’s expected of them. Are we making a decision? Are we asking questions? Is this an exploratory generative conversation? Often, they share that they’re confused as to what’s expected of them, so they tend to sit back and not participate or not add to the conversation because they’re not sure where it’s going. We work with a number of clients to help provide that role clarity by being very specific about how you’re asking the board to show up for each agenda item or issue. 

We think of them in four ways. We asking them to be deciders, advisers, explorers, or connectors. If you’re being a decider, you’re making a decision. Advisers, you’re asking the board to provide advice or perspective on a particular issue or something that’s on the horizon. Explorers are the generative conversation about what we want to be when we grow up or how was our mission evolving? How was a world-changing around us and how does it impact our organization or are we asking them to be connectors, to advocate on behalf of the organization and our purpose.  

We’re asking them to help with fundraising in many cases. Being clear, whether it’s a decider, advisor, explorer, or connector, helps board members know what is expected of them and participate more actively in the conversation. One client we worked with even color-coded the agenda. If this was an advisor conversation, it was green. If it was a decider, it was blue. If it was explorer, it was yellow. It made it very clear. This is what we’re expecting of you. Those board members reported that they liked that idea. It helped them to be better board members. 

Along with that is it helps them know what’s expected of them because the more clarity that can be given, the leader needs to be the person who’s giving that guidance to the board about what he or she needs from them. You need to lean into those conversations. They aren’t hard to lean into because anybody can feel ambiguity or lack of clarity around the table just by the nature of the questions and body language and to provide that guidance is a gift to your board. 

It’s a great conversation about making sure the boards understand what is expected of them. What’s number six? 

Board Succession Planning

Number six is about using board succession planning to clarify board purpose. What we have found in the clients that we’re working with is that many organizations have delayed or slowed board transition and committee leadership over the last year. That’s related to the pandemic to have more change at a time when there’s already a lot of change going on and it’s been quite challenging. Many organizations are seeking to respond to calls for more equity and diversity on their boards. Succession planning is a great way to go about doing that. The boards and some leaders think that once they got their board matrix put together, they’re good to go but succession plans are dynamic and they need to be sensitive to what is going on in the external environment and within the organization because it’s going to draw on different requirements for board members. 

To engage in a discussion on what the board and what skills are needed around the board table can bring clarity and focus to the purpose of the board. It needs to be thought of in a dynamic and ongoing way. We did have one of the people who participated in the Roundtables that said, “This is an ongoing piece. It is not static.” Board succession discussions shouldn’t take place two months before the end of the fiscal year. It’s about ensuring that you’ve got the right board members in place with the right skills, knowledge, and experience who are able to not only be productive board members but also step up into leadership roles. That is a dynamic and ongoing process with the governance or nominating committee that you’ve always got that farm team being built and the ability to draw on that to respond to what the needs of the organization are. 

The only thing I would add is that focus on who do we need around the board table can help clarify what the board’s role is with respect to the organization. If you’ve had a board that’s drifted a little bit too far into the stratosphere over the course of the last several months or if you’ve had a board that has descended to the level of operations, this could be a good way to help rectify and help them find the appropriate elevation. 

It’s not about the skills and experience that the individuals bring, but it’s also their point of view and their approach to governance. Unless you’re looking at those factors and fit within the board, those elements are so critical to creating an effective board. 

Direct Communication With The Board

The final one is simply to ask the board what they need. Be direct and ask how management can support board engagement. When we put this on the table, there were a lot of nodding heads at the Roundtables. What was your takeaway from that when we’re advising people to ask them what they need? 

I’m always curious about the reluctance to step into that conversation, but some of it is that leaders think that their boards know. The fact that they’re not being explicit about it, sometimes it feels like a territory we shouldn’t go into. Stepping into those conversations and asking the question is a big relief for board members because they may not know the leader may have some ideas about how they can help but at least it leads to a constructive discussion about what the board members need and how the leader can support and help guide that. I’m also asking the board chair or vice-chair to be in touch with all board members to discuss their roles and perception about how the board is working in an informal way. It also gives a bit of a barometer that is an important part in addition to formal board surveys. 

My sense is these informal discussions generate a lot more useful information than the formal board surveys. Sometimes, board members think, “He or she is too busy. I can’t call the individual.” If a leader is encouraging board members to call them directly, that opens up the door for those discussions where you can have a productive conversation with a board member that might not happen if the leader hadn’t opened the door to the possibility of that conversation. 

This is something that we did recommend to the CEOs. I prefaced it with when I was a CEO, I don’t think I would have ever made this recommendation because you don’t want your phone to be ringing off the hook and board members coming to you directly about anything. My experience has been when we’ve recommended it with clients, it’s not that board members call all the time but the board members feel better asking questions of the CEO in the meeting or in a committee meeting knowing that the CEO has signaled that they’re very open to having that conversation. It helps the CEO not be perceived as being defensive or resistant to board questioning or clarification, which is what most of the questions end up being. 

It helps to build a relationship knowing you’re having a conversation. There’s always an element to it which is not directly work-related and it does help people understand people as people and what drives them. It’s a great opportunity for the leader to get to know who their board members are as people and what’s important to them by the nature of the questions but also the nature of the other non-work-related conversation that they’re having with their board members. 

I’m going to summarize those seven strategies quickly for everyone and we’ll wrap up. They were one, host lightning sessions to provide information. Two, use your CEO report to start meetings to make sure you’re talking about what is most important. Three, reduce the size of board packages to as small as you can make them. Four, set a timeline for post-pandemic planning and governance reviews that your board may be asking for. Give them clarity that this will be discussed and give them a timeline that they will be discussing it in. Number five is providing that role clarity for each agenda item or each meeting, so boards know what hats they’re wearing and they can show up as their best selves more frequently at the board meetings. 

Six is to clarify the board’s purpose using succession planning to get the board talking about the board’s role as it relates to the organization, the importance of diversifying, and making more equitable seats around the board table. Finally, if all else has failed, number seven is to ask the board what they need to be engaged. Take that risk as a leader, ask that question, and you’ll be amazed at where you’ll end up. After everybody’s implemented those sevens, we talked about those seven, and people are going to move on to implement them. Margaret, what were your final takeaway from the CEO Roundtables? 

Board Engagement: Taking a systematic approach to achieving effective board engagement gives lift to all of those strategies about clarifying purpose, defining impact, and creating that kind of alignment.

This is the second group of CEO Roundtables that we have run. I am so impressed with the openness of the group of people around the table who want to engage with each other, help their organizations continue to be strong, and move forward. When we’ve had these, I am so hopeful, encouraged, and proud of what the social profit sector offers and how it has responded in this incredibly difficult time. We’ve got an extraordinary group of people leading social profit organizations who are bright, engaged, curious, and all looking to make a better society for us all. I leave these feeling very energized. 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on that. Thank you for participating in the Roundtables and thanks to everyone for reading. This is the final episode of the season four. We’ll be back with all-new episodes and our big 100th episode to kick things off. Thank you all for reading. 

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 About Margaret McNeil

 Margaret McNeil is the former CEO of Canuck Place Children’s Hospice and winner of the 2020 Waterstone Award for Most Admired CEO in the broader public sector category. Margaret is deeply committed to strengthening the sector’s impact on the lives of our citizens. Margaret has focused on making a difference in the lives of vulnerable populations and leading organizations to make significant and sustainable organizational change. The Beedie School of Business has recognized Margaret’s leadership as ‘Mentor of the Year’ as has Business in Vancouver with its CEO of the Year Award in 2017.