Lessons Learned from Observing Board Committee Restructuring Initiatives

By Joe Burke, PhD April 3, 2020 May 11th, 2021 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

Presidents and senior administration officials across the country are working feverishly to restructure their institutional leadership teams in real time to adjust to the significant challenges brought about by the onslaught of the coronavirus. Boards are also struggling to realign their own committee structures to parallel the administrative apparatus.

To aid us in this endeavor, we can look to the lessons we have learned over the past few years as boards have realigned their organizational structures and processes to strengthen their overall performance, become more consequential, and better fulfill their fiduciary duties. As I have advised or participated in many of these initiatives, I have observed significant trends behind their successes. Each of my observations dealt with how the board manages time in a restructure process. My major recommendations follow.

Take the time to plan well.

Successful boards take the time to understand the specific rationale behind the reorganization effort and develop a clear vision of the revised board relationships and processes that will evolve as a result of the restructuring process. They also take the time to establish an institutional strategic plan and supporting board goals, align the new committee structure with the plan and goals, and then track these goals with a set of new and revised strategic dashboards. Finally, they take the time to revise longitudinal and comparative dashboard formats and modify key institutional performance indicators (enrollment, financial, academics, quality, HR) with which to track success.

Empower committees with fiduciary responsibilities.

Successful boards go beyond renaming and realigning their committees. They empower these new committees with the authority to accomplish specific fiduciary responsibilities. Working with the appropriate staff members, the new committees identify major fiduciary questions regarding the strategic future of the institution, analyze data and develop policy alternatives, and prepare recommendations for general board discussion and approval. This specialization of board effort allows the entire board to have the necessary background information and time to focus on and discuss the most consequential issues facing the organization.

Invest in your members.

The third mark of a successful committee restructure is investing enough time in people because they are integral to the success of the process. Board members need time to discuss, understand, and support how things have changed, identify required new communication and coordination processes, design new meeting agendas for more strategic discussion, and, most important, understand new committee roles. Enough time must be carved out of existing agendas to adequately accomplish these professional development outcomes.

Create a system to continuously monitor progress.

The fourth success component is the board having a system in place to continuously measure progress and adjust as required. Committee responsibilities might need to be altered, agendas might need to be modified, or dashboards might need to be revised. A system to quickly and efficiently make these changes will help ensure success.

Appoint a single project manager.

The final ingredient of success is the board’s appointment of a single project manager. This could be the vice chair, the Governance Committee chair, or someone else appointed by the board chair. Boards are most successful when one person is clearly responsible for the entire endeavor and has the authority to coordinate the efforts of the various committees. A single person in charge will ensure appropriate responsibility, accountability, and coordination.

These are the best practices of a highly successful committee restructuring initiative.

Joseph Burke, PhD, is an AGB consultant and president emeritus of Keuka College.

For insights to help your board align its committee structure with strategic institutional priorities, see Restructuring Committees or contact AGB Consulting for assistance.

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