March 3, 2014
As association executives, one of the key processes we manage on a regular basis is the all-important Board vote. The more active or engaged your association is in key (and sometimes divisive) issues, the more frequent and important these votes are. While we, as the staff, don’t have a vote per se, we are critical to the process both from an administrative standpoint as well as in the concurrent roles of advisor, confidant, politician and pollster. It’s an extremely delicate balance, but that’s why our Boards rely on us, right?
So how do we manage the delicate balance of impartial referee and informed expert? Truth is, we all have our own styles and our own roles with our respective Boards. That is to say: one size doesn’t fit all. However, I would argue that given our positions at the center of our associations that very often we are more informed about these issues – particularly the controversial ones – than most if not all of our Board members, and we have a responsibility to ensure that the decisions that guide the association are not made in a vacuum, rather they are made with all pertinent factual data.
There are some basic strategies and considerations that are worth exploring to ensure that the Board makes swift, effective decisions in the best interests of the association and its members. Some considerations include:
- Identify the Issue and Establish the Process – This is hands-down the most critical step in any Board vote process because it sets the stage and everyone’s expectations. Will the vote take place in-person, via teleconference or electronically? What are the criteria for quorum? What manner of majority will prevail? In any case, ensure that the members know the vote is coming, and make sure they know when votes are due. Some associations effectively use the “silence will be considered consent” approach, which can be very useful if your members – and your by-laws – permit it.
- Just the Facts, Ma’am – Like everyone else these days, including you as the association executive, your Board members are likely very busy people. They don’t likely have the time to read reams of background materials, position papers, testimonials, and so on. The effective association executive ensures that issues and the facts around them are presented as concisely yet coherently as possible, ideally in an “executive summary” format. By all means make background materials available on request, but there is no better way to slow down the decision-making process than to bog folks down with paper and words.
- Encourage Healthy Discussion – In-person, on the phone and over the internet Board members need to have an opportunity to discuss an issue once it has been presented or motioned/seconded. There is always an advantage in person to seeing people’s body language and hearing their intonation when they express their views, but we don’t always have that luxury. Often times in electronic discussions members want to flag concerns but don’t necessarily want to be identified with them. Staff can help bring those concerns to light, assuming they are appropriate to the discussion and not intended to poke or prod anyone needlessly. Regardless of how the discussion comes to light, it is our responsibility to ensure that discussion doesn’t get too far afield from the heart of the matter, and to keep people focused on the decision at hand.
- Informally Poll and Identify Dissenting Views – This is where your relationships come into play. Certainly on more benign issues there is no need to fuel the political fires or pour salt in any wounds, but when you know there are conflicting views or agendas on a matter, part of your job as the central point of contact is to identify where the disagreements lie and, to the extent that you can, work to smooth those wrinkles. Sometimes people will stand-down if their objections are not truly substantive in nature, and other times folks just need someone impartial to help them understand the opposing view. Very often, as that central person, you have a good idea where the vote needs to go and through your relationships with Board members you stand a good chance of conveying that. Other times, as we all know all too well, there are just times where we have to step back and let the cards fall where they may.
- Follow-up with Silent Parties – I mentioned earlier that many execs will invoke the “silence is consent” workaround in order to keep from holding-up a voting process, but either due to your process or the significance of the matter that is not always an option. The effective association executive will keep a tight watch throughout the process and, when appropriate, will reach-out to non-voters to light a response fire underneath them, or at least to understand why they have not yet voted, and get them into the process.
- Communicate the Results – Information moves quickly these days – sometimes too quickly for some of us old-timers. Whether in-person or otherwise, it is important to ensure that all concerned parties, especially the Board, are informed of the outcome of the vote. Don’t take for granted that folks clearly know how things turned-out, because they don’t all have the benefit of seeing what you see and they certainly aren’t following the process as closely as you are.
Finally, especially for electronic votes, be sure and follow your association’s rules regarding any need to ratify a vote or action in-person. It seems like a little thing, but hey, in this business it’s ALWAYS the details that will get you!