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Called to Serve: If No Progress—Skip the “Progress Report!”

By John Pearson

This is No. 18 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “…one of the great time wasters for any group is the routine of giving progress reports when there’s been no progress.”

In his excellent chapter on “A Chairperson’s Guide,” De Pree continues to dispense governance wisdom in chunky nuggets and tongue-in-cheek witticisms. It’s the chair’s role, he says, to check with subcommittee chairpersons “to ensure there will be substance to their reports. If not, don’t risk frustrating the commitment of good people.”

Perhaps your executive committee could invest two minutes per committee (and I hope that’s not more than 10 minutes total!) to review the committee reports presented at your last meeting. Were they fruitful or frustrating?

Here are three reasons they might be frustrating:

#1. No SMART Goals. The best committees have three to five annual “SMART” Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-related). Without crystal clear goals (recorded in the minutes), you risk wandering into the foggy wilderness.

#2. No Clarity Between Board and Staff Roles. Too many committees (let me say that again)…WAY too many committees…become a volunteer arm of the staff instead of a sleek, mission-driven committee that addresses fork-in-the-road policy issues.

#3. No Alignment With the Vision, Mission and Strategic Plan. An astute committee chair will always introduce an agenda topic by connecting it to previous or future board action. Example: “As you know, our Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan calls for us to introduce XYZ by the second quarter of next year—so our committee has been reviewing the staff recommendation on how this program might impact our Board Policies Manual section on outside audits of programs over X dollars.”

Bonus Reason #4. The BHAG is Just a BAG! Maybe…the reason that committee meetings (and their lack-of-progress progress reports) are so frustrating is because board members (or staff) pull trustees into the weeds—rather than into the heavens. If your BHAG (Big HOLY Audacious Goal) lacks the HOLY, then slow down and assess your “called to serve” core values and commitments. Do you experience holy ground moments—even in committee meetings?

Remember 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV): “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

BOARD EXERCISE: At your next board meeting, present a gift card to the first committee chair who courageously announces, “We have no progress to report, but we are working on our three to five annual SMART Goals that the board approved at the last meeting. Thus ends our report!”

 

This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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