By Gregg Patterson
In any culture, whether it’s in a private club or a South American nation, governance is “job one.” Want to create a new culture? Governance is key. Want to sustain a given culture? Governance is key. Want to change a given culture? Governance is key.
But what is governance? It’s about making decisions, executing the decisions made and enforcing compliance with those decisions. Simple enough. But tough to do, right?
Making sure a club gets the right people in the right seats at the boardroom table is critical. Clubs that identify the right people, cultivate the right people and then put the right people properly cultivated in the “chairs of governance” will flourish.
Some do governance right. Some don’t. Here at The Beach Club, in my opinion. we do governance right.
Educating board members – the process
Identifying, educating and elevating the right people requires a “process.” Our process is more organic than linear, more experiential than didactic, more facilitated insight than rote learning.
The education process begins years before the member sits in the boardroom. We don’t “train” future board members we grow them. We stimulate their curiosity about and their understanding of “The Why of The Beach Club”, about “The There, which is The Expression of The Why” and “The How of Translating Vision into Reality.”
Over the years while Those With Potential are in the “minor league”, serving on committees, we give them lots of “meat issues” to chew on and lots of meetings to do the chewing with lots of conversations, laughter, reviewing, mentoring and reflecting, all the while getting a dose of The Buzz for The Club…and education just seems to happen.
We believe that the “education” of a board member starts earlier and takes years of experiencing and listening and talking and “educating” to get someone ready to make policy decisions that will impact this and future generations of BCers. The process is stimulating, fun, meaningful and exciting. And we have no difficulty getting fabulous people to serve—-to commit their time, energy and intellect—- because our educational process is a stimulating journey into the very heart of The Beach Club Culture.
So here’s our process, consuming up to 10 years before those with potential are selected for board service.
Step One: Identify “The Why” and “The There.” Before you can select the right people to cultivate and educate, you’ll need to clearly identify The Why – that is, the reason your club exists. For us, it’s all about relationships and community – and all the stuff that’s needed to bring people together so they can develop relationships and community.
Once you’ve got The Why you’ll need to identify The There, that is, where you’re heading in the future to satisfy The Why. For example, here at The Beach Club we’re evolving to address the needs of a future generation hungry for relationships and community. We need people who buy into our and can help us get There from Here.
Step Two: Identify talent. Clubs have talented people within the club community. Knowing who to “educate” and to “cultivate” requires knowing who’s needed to make “club happen.” Job One is to identify members out there in the club community who have The Why of the club in their genes and have the tools and the talent to help us build our Beach Club Tribe. To do that the club needs scouts, members who are serving or have served on boards and committees and senior managers who interface with members on a day-to-day basis, who can identify potential.
We further expand our “search” by gathering the names of people who’ve expressed an interest in serving on a committee. For us, that’s a huge pool of talent because ours is a service centric club environment (that is, it’s commonly understood that you have to give back to back to the community that’s given to you). If your governance process is stimulating and meaningful – and the word gets out that it is – people will want to serve for The Buzz doing committee provides.
Step Three: Put those with potential on committees that reflect their strengths and interests. Chairs present their slate of candidates to the board and the board gives the green light for a given member to serve on a given committee. The collective intelligence of the board is useful in assigning people to the right committee.
Step Four: Start educating the newbies. The first committee meeting of the administrative year starts with The Orientation to Club Governance. This involves a generic overview of the governance structure – who makes decisions and who administers them. Then there’s a review of the committee process in general and that committee’s responsibilities specifically.
After this overview, the big clubs issues – the global club issues requiring input from every committee are discussed. Then specific issues this committee addressed in the prior year are discussed before the key issues for that committee in the coming year are detailed.
That’s the “academic” part of the educational process. Once a year. Useful to newbies and oldies on the committee.
But that’s not where most of the “learning” takes place, because most learning doesn’t happen in a classroom but “in the trenches”, solving real problems and addressing issues of consequence to the club community.
The learning and the educating take place during the process of identifying problems, researching, debating, deciding what to do; then observing how it got done and whether the decision should be done differently the next time.
Most learning is organic that is, it isn’t in a straight line, isn’t a linear experience as “professional educators” do when “training” somebody. These are clever people and they learn best when engaged in substantive conversation making decisions with impact. They want to learn by doing, then reflecting on what got done. Education that’s experientially driven, that’s action focused is remembered.
Background info is needed to make good decisions. The manager is responsible for preparing the committee to discuss issues of consequence” with White Papers, Annotated Agendas, relevant articles and industry insights – then facilitates the discussion.
The manager isn’t the coach. That is, they don’t TELL the committee what to do. Rather the manager is the Mentor. That is, they give advice and insight and the committee makes the decision about what to recommend to the board.
Step Five: Select the right people for the board based on the needs the club has right now. Here at The Beach Club we believe you “ain’t ready for the board” unless you’ve served on lots of committees for lots of time in the previous 10 years, and have distinguished yourself with your engagement, your balanced judgment, your input, the quality of your articulation, and your deep and passionate caring for The Why and The There.
We believe in the Noblesse Oblige system of governance. We have three board openings each year, the Nominating Committee, consisting of the three most recent past presidents, selects them, get their commitment, have the members vote on the best three for the three openings (an easy choice!) and the board newbies are in.
Step Six: Learn by observing. The “candidates” are invited to attend board meetings as “observers” one or two months before they’re actually voted onto the board. At that time they’re put on the “board mailing list” and asked to read the Weekly Board Update, which the manager writes discussing everything happening at the club; and they read the various documents sent to the board in advance of the monthly board meeting (Annotated Board Agenda, issue specific White Papers, the monthly financials, the Variance Report).
By attending the board meeting they’re able to observe the give and take between board members. Learning by observing. Learning by engaging in a spirited verbal exchange. Learning simply by “being at the table.”
Step Seven: Board specific orientation. Before being voted in by the membership, the newbies are invited to the formal orientation given by the incoming president, the outgoing president, the general manager and any interested senior staff or board members who choose to attend. The same “orienting” takes place as they’ve already experienced at the committee level, although now all the issues are now board specific policy issues.
The Newbies are then given a refresher course in governance – who makes decisions, who administers them and who enforces the decisions made. They review the committee process then address the big issues for the coming year needing input from all the committees. The key issues are highlighted and some basic background to each is provided.
And they’re told, over and over again about The Big Four: Be curious, ask questions, read everything and speak up.
The orientation loosens their brains and makes them sponges of knowledge!!!
Step Eight: Continuing education. The orientation is the jumping off point for a newbie’s real education: Doing Board. Each day they’ll be getting email updates from the manager on issues of consequence. Each Sunday morning the newbie will get The Board Update with comments on everything that’s happening. Each month the newbie will sit with the GM and review their committee’s agenda, ask their questions, draw on the experiential resources of the manager, accept their mentoring.
They’ll conduct their committee meetings, listen, research, argue, engage, facilitate. Then they’ll get background readings for the board meeting –White Papers providing background information on action Items, an Annotated Agenda, which gives an “upbrief” on each of the agenda items.
Then they engage in animated exchanges with the senior board members and senior management team. The president forces them to contribute by asking them questions, asking them for opinions, asking them to clarify their committee’s recommendation. They’ll absorb ideas, issues, and insights organically – no classroom required, no volumes to read. And the learning process continues –forever.
And the process works – at least it does here at The Beach Club Santa Monica!!!
And enjoy the journey—
Gregg Patterson is general manager of the Beach Club of Santa Monica and a regular contributor to BoardRoom magazine.