Goldilocks and the three board members: Part 2

Yesterday, my post titled “Goldilocks and the three board members” talked about a very cold bowl of porridge that involves non-profit boards who fail to evaluate their executive director every year. In doing so, they set their agency up for failure, liability and <gulp> perhaps even personal liability if the D & O Insurance carrier deems coverage null and void because the board failed to make a “good faith effort” to carry out its fiduciary responsibilities.

Today,  I would like to talk about that VERY HOT bowl of porridge. This, of course, is when a board goes way overboard with the annual performance plan and year-end evaluation.

In this scenario, the board president thinks they “own” the organization and take their leadership position way too seriously. They decide that their time at the helm of the ship will go down in the history books as the “Golden Age” of your non-profit organization. They see the executive director as a “direct report” and use the performance plan and year-end evaluation processes to micro-manage OR change behavior of the person occupying the executive director’s chair OR drive the executive director screaming from the room (so either they or a friend of theirs can take over).

If this seems far-fetched, please trust me when I tell you I’ve seen it happen more often than I care to admit.

It is typically true in my experience that the board member who is being very aggressive usually has some very legitimate issues. However, their aggressive approach makes them look like an egomaniac or a big jerk. Sadly, those issues never get dealt with because the focus becomes personal rather than organizational. As a result, the organization and the clients it serves end up the big loser.

The interesting thing I’ve seen is how the other board members in the room deal with this individual. The group usually tries to “pacify” and give them total authority to do whatever they want with the executive director’s performance plan or year-end review.

This “accommodating move” by the board is meant to shut the instigator up, but it never seems to work out that way.  The annual performance plan and year-end evaluation resemble something straight out of a carnival fun house with those weird mirrors. Annual performance objectives turn out unmeasurable and read something like this:

  • Improve staff morale
  • Be a leader in the community
  • Move all of our accreditation scores up one level

It looks and feels really muscular and accountable, but when you peel the layers of the onion back nothing makes any sense. How do you measure improved staff morale? Is it realistic to focus on all accreditation categories (even the ones you’re already doing well in)? What is a leader and how do you determine that?

Next thing you know everything feels subjective. Feelings get hurt. Emotions run high. And the board volunteers who thought they solved the problem by “brushing off” the loud squeaky wheel in the board room, find themselves in a much worse situation. It always turns into a trust issue between the board and their executive director. However, it sometimes turns into impending legal action involving things like: harassment, hostile work environment, or retaliation.

Trust me when I say the really hot dish of porridge is not the solution. Please tune in tomorrow, and we’ll talk about what a normal situation might look like.

Have you ever been involved in a situation where one board member is really “hot to trot” about the annual performance plan or year-end evaluation for the executive director? Have you ever seen it turn out OK? Do you have any examples of just “horrible” performance plan objectives that just didn’t make sense?

Please share . . . we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on December 6, 2011, in Board development, Fundraising, nonprofit, resource development and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Sadly, its probably best that I don’t comment. I still have scars from being burned by said bowl of hot porridge…

  2. In New jersey, I have seen where a new Board President just recently was dissatified with the CEO’s perfromance and it resulted in a firing…

    • Thanks for weighin in, Robert. That happens all the time. However, I think I’m talking about when the board let’s one person hijack the entire process. While not always the case, I have seen it more often than not where there are “agendas,” egos, and personalities. Poor performance is one thing, but I always get worried when the board abdicates its responsibility to one person. Thanks for your insights! They are always encouraged and welcome.

  1. Pingback: Goldilocks and the three board members: Part 3 « Donor Dreams Blog

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