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Suiting style to stage.

Suiting STYLE to Stage

John Joiner is a mid-level manager recently elected to the board of a medium-size, middle-age Midwestern trade group. Mergers create two board openings, and the chair asks him for recommendations. Joiner has the rare privilege of dreaming . . . What kind of board member?

Such reverie is no idle exercise: Boards' roles and responsibilities change as organizations evolve. They need different kinds of board members at different times, and the mix of talents and temperaments required also changes.

A look at the evolutionary process that organizations go through will help Joiner and his peers determine the personality traits and skills to look for in selecting new directors.

Life cycle models

The fundamental concept of how association boards and staffs relate to one another is well-known to Joiner: The board sets policy. The staff implements policy.

In practice, however, directors are either responsible for, or involved in, a number of collaborative tasks, such as setting goals, monitoring progress, and making policy.

Though limited, life cycle models provide insight into how such decision-making evolves and changes over time.

One school of thought presents a biological model to better understand the process: In The Organizational Life Cycle (Jossey-Bass, Inc., Publishers, San Francisco, 1980), authors John R. Kimberly and Robert H. Miles describe organizational stages in terms of birth, maturity, and decline. And association consultant Glenn Tecker has adapted this model:

1. Conception. A group of people see an advantage to voluntarily coming together. They start an association. 2. Infancy. The founders are still in charge or are influencing decisions. The organization struggles to survive. Every job requires more work than volunteers can do, so one or more staff members sign on. 3. Puberty. The organization grows steadily, but internal coordination is lacking. Professional management techniques are gradually acquired. 4. Young adulthood. Management systems, staff, and bureaucracy grow. Internal politics are evident. 5. Adulthood. The organization masters its environment. Members and managers are well-served. 6. Late adulthood. The excitement of belonging to the organization has diminished. Members are less willing to support innovation. Complacency exists. The zeal is gone. 7. Old age. The organization loses its ability to cope. The real needs of members are not served. Managers and leaders bicker. Internal control is lacking, but few people seem concerned.

The eighth stage is a choice among revitalization, atrophy, obscurity, or dissolution. For unlike people, organizations do not follow an inevitable life cycle; they may move backward and forward on the cycle.

An organization's life cycle is not tied to chronology. One organization may move from conception to maturity in a few years, while another may take decades to follow the same course. Other associations may simultaneously exhibit characteristics of several stages. Entirely new life cycles may be created through mergers, acquisitions, or organizational crises.

Life cycles for subsidiary or affiliated organizations--such as political action committees, chapters, and special interest groups--progress on a separate track. Thus, life cycle theory provides a framework to help understand complex organization development.

Situational leadership

An ASAE Foundation study of critical competencies, Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses, found that association executives need different skills depending on whether the association is "mature" or "developing."

This fits the theory of "situational leadership" proposed by management consultants Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey in Situational Leadership (William Morrow & Company, New York City, 1982). They suggest that leadership behavior should change as the needs of followers change. Directing, coaching, supporting, or delegating styles are used, depending on the confidence and competence of the association's members.

It follows that boards' roles should differ according to the situation. After all, boards are groups of leaders with well-defined job descriptions. A situational approach to governance suggests that these job descriptions should change as organizations evolve through their life cycles. Roles and functions of whole boards change, too.

Even directors' attitudes toward a fundamental premise--organizational security--can change dramatically. At first, leaders are very concerned about an organization's security. As they slowly grow more confident that it will survive, their attitudes are reflected in the decisions they make. For example, youthful boards often give painstaking attention to budget details. More confident boards leave many budget decisions to staff members and move on to more enjoyable tasks, such as examining their industry's opportunities to engage in international trade or seeking ways to expand member services.

Thus, boards move from an internal focus to an external one (as indicated by the matrix entitled "Changing Relationship of Focus and Security"), which illustrates the changing relationship between focus and security. In early stages, the focus is internal. Organization directors do not feel secure. Security increases, but the focus remains internal in the second stage. Later, the focus shifts to external issues, and security is high. In the fourth stage, the association's security is uncertain, but the focus remains external.

While the board is responsible for policy at each stage, and while staff is responsible for implementation at each stage, governance roles vary with the life cycle.

Ideally, the evolutionary process also features the following:

* Entrepreneurial board. The board practices "hands on" management during the stages of conception, infancy, and puberty. Youthful organizations are also volunteer driven. Financially, they are insecure because of unpredictable cash flow and the high costs of start-up. Questions of opportunity emerge: Why do members join? What will attract more members? What programs and projects are needed? Creative thinkers, fund-raisers, and member recruiters make good board members for such organizations. They establish the first institutional paradigms.

* Systems board. The board focuses attention on larger internal issues as the organization evolves from puberty into young adulthood. Finances are more stable, but growth presents questions about internal coordination. Board members ask: How will chapters be organized and integrated into the decision-making structure? How many people should be on the board, and how should they be chosen? What committees are needed? Are member services being properly delivered? These are team-oriented people, who appreciate the mechanics of organization.

* Strategic board. With an external focus on security and financial stability during adulthood and late adulthood, here the board addresses the "big picture." A strategic board asks, Are member needs changing? What will be the impact of future trends? How can complexity and diversity be accommodated? Are new markets available? Successfully addressing these questions can revitalize the organization and enhance its life cycle. Visionary and conceptual thinkers and people who are open to change make good members of a strategic board.

* Transformational board. Active when the organization slides into old age, this board must act as a transforming agent. With plateaued or decreased revenues, dwindling membership, and an increased need to invest in new programs, finances are strained. Directors must ask tough questions: Who needs this organization? Why is competition increasing? What must be done? Risk takers--those who are not afraid of rocking the boat--must be recruited.

Unlike those on an entrepreneurial board, they face not a clean slate but a complex situation with competing and vested interests. As agents of change, directors on a transformational board may become unpopular. The volunteer careers of some members may not survive. Yet their failure to transform an organization may end its useful life. If a transformational board cannot be developed, revitalization does not occur.

While different boards are needed at various stages in organizations' lives, a mix of board members helps to provide balance. An entrepreneurial board, for example, should not be composed entirely of entrepreneurs. A few members with systematic or strategic orientations provide perspective and balance. An entrepreneurial director on a strategic board adds greatly to discussion of new products and services, for instance.

Situational governance

By juxtaposing a diagram of organizational life cycles with matrixes showing boards' focus on security issues (see diagram, "Situational Governance"), I have created a model. It is a framework for understanding boards' roles during their evolution, illustrating the way boards govern their organizations--and their own roles--at various stages in their life cycles.

In addition to helping Joiner identify the kind of directors his board needs, such analyses can help boards diagnose and resolve other leadership challenges. Here are some examples.

* Leadership alignment. Since boards tackle different issues at various stages, conflicts arise when directors' characteristics are out of sync. For instance, directors who are system-oriented may focus on internal coordination issues when a more strategic focus is needed.

Such a board fine-tunes the number of committees or endlessly debates structural issues. Meanwhile, strategic issues--such as emerging competition, changing member needs, and potential member markets--grow and fester. Busy rearranging deck chairs on a sinking Titanic, the misaligned board does not focus on the real dangers at hand.

* Board selection. Understanding the relationship between organizational life cycles and board roles can help nomination committees identify leaders. While politics will always play a role, an insight into situational governance can bring balance and perspective to elections.

* Career development. A board may want to consider its life cycle when searching for a new chief staff executive. Does the organization need an entrepreneur who prefers to initiate new programs or one who produces transformations?

* Training. Just as the mix of board members must change to coincide with changing board roles, so the mix of staff and volunteer talents needs to change. Staff and volunteer development projects may be guided by changes in life cycle. With education, for example, a staff member who thinks systematically may begin to think strategically. Long-term volunteer training can also be tied to future situations.

* Program development. As organizations age, changing member needs--and board composition--will affect programs. It may be difficult to deliver programs through chapters until the late systems stage. At the transformation stage, diminishing resources may force new delivery methods.

* Risk taking. Situational analyses can help association leaders judge if the time is right for specific risks. Generally, older boards may be less receptive to risk. For example, an entrepreneurial board may quickly agree to spend money developing a new program, but a strategic board will give approval only after a member survey indicates that it is the right thing to do. Knowing how to introduce a proposal--in a form the board can appreciate--is the key to its success or failure.

Defining the situation

Volunteer leaders and chief staff executives can also analyze the organization's current and future status by using these three steps.

First, ask volunteer and staff leaders to rate the group's current stage in the life cycle. While a specific stage may be difficult to pinpoint, leaders can usually agree on a general range.

Second, evaluate how the board really works and identify the questions board members ask. Compare these observations to the descriptions given for each situational board stage. Again, try to obtain a consensus.

Third, synthesize your views on the board's role. Where do you place the board in the framework of situational governance? Is the board aligned with the association's development?

To meet changing member needs, Joiner and his peers must mirror the situation they face. Situational governance provides theoretical insight into this vital leadership challenge. [Diagram Omitted]

Gary A. LaBranche, CAE, is vice president and director of association consulting, Lawrence-Leiter and Company, Kansas City, Missouri. Reprinted from Leadership, 1991, copyright ASAE.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:determinants to use in selection of association members
Author:LaBranche, Gary A.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Previous Article:Cheers for the volunteers.
Next Article:Pausing to serve.

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