Balancing Act: How Effective Boards Juggle Competing Priorities

Balancing Act: How Effective Boards Juggle Competing Priorities

By Susan Farrell Stock

Boards of directors face many challenges that compete for their time and strategic focus.

Effective boards—whether for not-for-profit companies or large, multi-national corporations—focus on strategy, defining value through products and services they offer their customers or members to grow market share and revenue. With a deep understanding of their audience and market, high performing boards focus on the future, delivering products that meet both current and future audience needs.

Volunteer board leaders bring subject matter expertise that delivers valued perspectives about the current or potential marketplace, audience, and content to reinforce the unique and differentiating benefits and brand of the organization, as well as in realizing organizational mission and their desired future state—their unique vision.

Boards routinely navigate decisions based on their strategic priorities, leveraging limited resources and perspectives about the future growth of the organization. Strategic priorities align to mission and vision, with success often measured using quantifiable metrics, such as member growth and retention, market share, product sales, and number of certifications and registrations for events.

But often, these priorities are in conflict.

For not-for-profit association boards, this can be seen when they seek ways to return benefits to their members. Sometimes, this leads boards to discuss offering content or resources developed by the organization for free or a reduced cost. For many boards of not-for-profit organizations, a belief exists that the organization cannot show a profit. Yet, profits enable investment in new programs, products, and services that have the potential to deliver new value, competitive advantage, and revenue growth, while aligning with the strategic priorities and advancing the mission of the organization.

How then can boards create balance between the myriad priorities they face?

The answer: By being an agile board.

Agile boards rely on data-based decision-making, have an anticipatory mindset, are focused on creating value, and are stewards for the sustainability of the organization.

In the 3 years since the pandemic began, agile boards have focused on revenue-generating activities to ensure sustainability, healthy reserves, and an ability to invest in new programs that can grow membership.

Part of an effective balancing act includes an effective relationship between the board and the organization’s staff. Clarity of the roles between the two strengthens a partnership that fosters strategic focus and operational agility to deliver results. Simply put: Boards focus on creating strategy; staff execute operational plans to achieve desired outcomes. With each empowering the other to focus on their respective areas, boards are better able to balance priorities and move their organizations forward.

Susan Farrell Stock, MPS, is chief operating officer at 911.

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