Getting Your Board on Board with some Pre-planning
I was coaching a visionary executive director and she was telling me about her upcoming board meeting in two days. She was about to propose a new vision and a much larger budget to support a new five-year plan. My next question stopped her like a deer in headlights: “So what have you done to get the board members ready to give you their support?” Her look told me we had some work to do.
For the next 30 minutes, we developed a game plan that she executed perfectly, and I am happy to report that she received full support from the board. In this article, we will look at some practical strategies for building support before you even get to the meeting.
I’ve had a number of conversations like the one above. From a Gallup strengths perspective, it becomes clear why some leaders don’t consider their need to influence. For many, nearly all of their Gallup strengths are in the strategic thinking, relationship building or executing domains. If they are lucky, they might have one strength in influencing. More often, those influencing strengths are dead last in the lineup, which means getting people to buy into an idea isn’t even on their radar.
They assume a good idea will sell itself. Makes sense, right? Perhaps if humans were like robots. However, we don’t always make rational decisions, and even when we do, they are colored by our past experiences, current assumptions, our values, and our motivations. And if you read my last two articles, you will understand why you should celebrate if your board or leadership team isn’t filled with “yes people.” They will ask hard questions (as they should) to make your decisions better as a team.
Let’s look at a few strategies you can deploy to improve your odds when bringing a proposal to the board. Notice that these actions all take place BEFORE the meeting.
- Connect it to the vision and other initiatives. It is easier for people to accept that which aligns to what already is happening – there is less change and usually some evidence of success with similar initiatives. And if the members supported the other programs, they are more likely to agree with this next step or linked effort. Otherwise, your proposal can look like a “flavor of the month” which is frequently ineffective and often should be rejected because all aspects of any organization need to be in alignment with the vision and each other.
- Propose a pilot in an area of the church where it is most likely to succeed. For completely new programs or changes in operations most people are amenable to trying something small, as long as it doesn’t detract from other priorities. The pilot will enable you to test the waters, improve your program, and hopefully eliminate any fears that are unfounded.
- Use the bullseye approach to improve your odds. A target with three circles is what I drew on the board when I met with the leader I referenced earlier. Here’s how to use it:
- In the center circle, write the names of those who you know will buy in immediately.
- In the next circle, identify those who may have some objections but who you can convince.
- In the outer circle, list those who are likely to be hard to change their minds.
- Finally, highlight those on the diagram who others tend to follow.
Just like you want to focus on people’s strengths and not their weaknesses, I suggest you start with those in the center circle. Pick up the phone and contact those who you know will be on board, share with them the idea, and ask for their support. Also, carefully see if they have any suggestions for convincing some of the naysayers. Inside info is always helpful.
Now that you are not alone, move to the next circle and seek their support in person, listening actively for their concerns and assumptions so you can alleviate any doubts and meet their expectations. NEVER name drop in these meetings of the others who are on board. Wait for their support to be unveiled at the main meeting.
For the outer circle, I would only focus on those who are influential, and if they won’t attempt to build a coalition against the plan before the meeting. The point of these conversations isn’t convincing, but listening to their views on the subject. This way, you will have more information that will be useful when you get to the board/team meeting. You are more likely to convince the outliers when they hear that others are supportive and that you have thought through their perspective before presenting your plan.
Is there a chance someone will mount support against your idea? Possibly, and that is why it is important to ask God for wisdom, knowledge, words, and timing. Also, if there is significant resistance, be open to the possibility that your idea may need to be overhauled.
This approach can work with boards, teams that report to you or teams that you report to. In either case, you are better selling an idea vs. forcing it. Otherwise, the execution of the program can be in jeopardy without full support.
Next time, we will look at what happens when you arrive at the meeting.
Loriana Sekarski is President of BONSAI, a leadership coaching and consulting business. She is a leadership, engagement and soft skills expert. Loriana has been consulting and advising businesses and organizations on cultural change and engagement for over 25 years. She also instructs graduate students on these topics at Washington University in St. Louis. Her interest in sustainability of change efforts was ignited in her graduate research at MIT.