Some boards want to approve every press release the executive issues, resulting in several edits, rewrites, etc. Other boards involve themselves in what kind of paper the organization uses, issuing edicts on “green” content percentages or which manufacturer the organization will purchase paper from.
The craziest thing I ever saw was a frustrated executive who had been asked by the board to account for every minute of his time and his plan for every minute of his time for the coming year. What should have been a broad work plan with achievable goals resulted in a day by day projection (for 365 days) of what projects he and his staff was going to work on. When I flipped through it all I could think of was how toxic the executive/board relationship had become.
One executive I knew could never take a real vacation; he was expected to be on committee and board conference calls even though he was supposed to be on vacation with his family. In another instance, a treasurer wanted to re-open an audited financial statement because he found a $10 discrepancy. Thank goodness the accountants convinced the treasurer that in order to remedy the $10 discrepancy it would cost the organization about $1,500 in accounting fees.
Then there are the boards who insist upon approving every hiring decision down to the receptionist at the front desk. Or the boards that want a presence at every meeting the executive has with other organizations. And the boards that want the executive to “clock in” and “clock out.”
Micromanagement is never good, whether it’s a board micromanaging an executive or the executive micromanaging staff. Micromanagement is literally saying “we don’t trust you to do the job right.”
I firmly believe that when an organization hires an executive they should hire the best talent they can find and once done, trust that person to be professional, competent and capable. And if that person proves to be none of those things, then it is the board’s prerogative to fire them. But to hire an executive and then treat them like an errant child who needs constant oversight is demoralizing to the executive and to the organization.
What is the job of the board? Two things: setting policy and fundraising. Unfortunately in the nonprofit sector most boards do both of those things badly.
Setting policy means determining goals for the organization and then leaving it up the executive how he or she will reach those goals. For example, a board may say that they want a 15% growth in membership over a twenty-four month period. Now it is up to the executive to figure out how to achieve that membership goal. Or a board may say it wants the organization to offer new services such as specific types of membership training, then it is up to the executive to determine how that training will be delivered.