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October 12, 2023

Next Level Governance™: Prioritizing Insights to Drive Change


McKinley’s 2023 study of association executives, Next-Level Governance™: Leading with Strategic Agility, revealed that CEOs think the board’s role of providing insight into the future challenges facing the field/industry should be their number one priority (81%).

But how can you realistically foster this if your board only meets a few times a year?

There are three core elements to fostering a board that intentionally provides these critical insights. They include recruiting board members intentionally, creating space for generative discussions, and embracing data as a driver of action.

Recruiting your board members intentionally

How can you build a board with diverse directors who have insights into the profession or industry you represent?

The Next-Level Governance™ CEOs we surveyed said they intentionally and formally recruit board members who can provide insight into the field through these initiatives, from most common to least.

  • Matching the strategic plan with the board nominating and assessment process to enhance the board with skill sets required for achieving the strategic plan. 
  • Undergoing an annual review of the qualities needed for the next set of directors to be added to the board to enhance its effectiveness.
  • Conducting a regular board competencies assessment and gap analysis to inform nominating decisions.
  • Setting specific targets for collective skillsets, qualities and experiences to enhance collective diversity and competence.
  • Establishing formal director job descriptions and experience requirements and updating them regularly.
  • Developing nomination guidelines that are updated yearly to target important evolving qualities and needs.
  • Undertaking an application process that requires a demonstration of strategic thinking.
  • Implementing a leadership development committee to identify and cultivate talent.

Sometimes, this may mean intentionally recruiting board members from outside your membership who can provide critical insights.  For example, if your strategic plan calls for expansion across borders, having board members who have led global initiatives can be highly beneficial.

Creating space for generative conversations

When you design your board agendas, you should create space to engage in generative thinking, particularly about significant issues that may impact your members, field or industry within the next several years. A pre-read with the questions in advance can set the stage for conversations.

Some guiding questions could include:

  • Can you paint a picture of how our industry might look in 5-10 years?
  • What’s not changing in our business environment?
  • What are some of the macro factors that may impact the profession? 

At the time of publication of this blog, many boards have been engaging in generative conversations about the implications of artificial intelligence.

While generative conversations may not result in any immediate decisions or action items, these conversations foster dynamic learning, which was noted as one of every board's top four core strengths in our Next-Level Governance report. This doesn’t need to be on every board agenda, but thinking about the full scope of meetings and how you can incorporate sessions that address these questions can lead to impactful discussions. 

Embracing data as a driver of action

Association leaders and boards should use data to inform their discussions and develop strategies to address the current and future needs of their members and the industry. The board must stay up-to-date with insights about the competitive and operating environment and represent the stakeholder perspective. 

One way CEOs can nurture this is to support the need for research engagements such as market research and field and industry studies. These research engagements include methodologies such as interviews with key stakeholders, environmental scans and competitive scans, which provide an in-depth analysis of the industry and profession. 

  • Interviews with Key Stakeholders: Meet with stakeholders who have important insights into the current state of your industry and its challenges and opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of insights in the field.
  • Environmental scan: Conduct secondary research to understand the current dynamics of the market in which you operate and identify marketplace opportunities, gaps and areas of saturation.
  • Survey Questionnaire: Build and send surveys to members to identify emerging priorities to inform how you can strategically deliver on your value proposition. 

Pilot testing new benefits or services is another research opportunity that boards that adopt healthy risk tolerances will embrace.  While every pilot test cannot be expected to succeed financially or otherwise, every pilot should generate learnings that can be shared with the board to inform future decision-making.

Focusing on recruiting board members intentionally, creating space for generative discussions, and embracing data as a driver of change can ensure that your board members are prioritizing their role of providing insight into the future challenges facing the field/industry. Keeping a pulse on the insights from your sector is vital to leading with strategic agility and delivering a significant impact to your members and society. 

Would you like to discuss how you can achieve strategic agility in your governance? Get in touch with our expert advisors. 


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