Disruptive change is occurring everywhere in the world. Many things that were taken for granted just a few years ago cannot be taken for granted anymore. And, if anything, change is only accelerating. When building a board for your organization, you need to be certain that the board will be able to assess, analyze, and react to change. And that can be very difficult when these changes are happening so fast.
Let’s take a look at what it takes to build a future-proofed board for the needs of both today and tomorrow.
When selecting board members, consider that they need to have a skill set that is applicable to today and tomorrow. Tomorrow will come faster than you think. Board members today need to be at least minimally tech-savvy. They need to understand the changes that are occurring in their community and their industry. And they need to be able to react swiftly to these changes; they have to be adaptive and willing to evolve.
There are many board members who may be well-versed in the organization’s past but not necessarily prepared for the organization’s future. Many don’t react well to change and there can be a tendency in some to assume that any disruption will pass. As we have seen in recent years, disruptions don’t pass — if anything, they keep disrupting.
When disruption does occur, the first people to see it are likely the ones on the ground. Those within the management of an organization will see the way the wind is blowing before the board members do. Board members need to be fiercely connected to management, so they are able to both identify changes and adjust to them. The more disconnected board members are from the reality of the organization, the less likely they will be to make the right decisions.
In the past, this wasn’t as critical because the change happened slowly and was less immediately impactful. Board members might be able to wait for comprehensive reports regarding shifts within their industry or within their demographics. Now, change is happening so quickly and so many markets are so competitive that the organization may need to shift direction quite quickly. Fostering additional connections and engagement between board members and management becomes critical.
New technology is often what disrupts established spaces. Whole industries have found themselves turned upside down due to new technologies. Modern board members need to be willing to adopt new technologies swiftly if they don’t want to be left behind. They need to be able to identify the technologies that are going to be best for them (as well as the most long-lasting) and they need to be able to plan for transitions.
At the same time, organizations cannot leverage new technologies without taking responsibility for their use. When making the decision to utilize new technologies, board members must also consider the risks that are inherent to those technologies. Board members will need to continually conduct risk assessments regarding which technologies are worthwhile, and will need to craft comprehensive contingency plans should the worst occur.
If you’re a nonprofit organization, your board should represent your community. If you’re a corporation, your board should represent your key demographics. It’s critical that you have representation on your board. Otherwise, you won’t understand the concerns and culture of those whom you serve. There are some things that board members simply won’t see unless they are part of the community that they are serving. There are things that are obvious to some and not obvious at all to others. This doesn’t mean that you need to replace your board now, but rather that it’s something that should be considered moving forward.
Creating a diverse, inclusive board makes it easier to connect with your community and your demographics and assess what they really need and how you can better provide it. Today, diversity and inclusiveness are already important. But it will grow even more important in time as industries are disrupted, and it’s necessary to remain agile and to pivot. The deeper the understanding between your board members and the communities they serve, the more readily they will be able to react to these changes.
You should never build a board for a team, organization, or nonprofit “for today.” Rather, you should consider how your board is going to continue working into the future. The only sustainable board is a board that can function both today and tomorrow. Part of a board’s responsibility is not only to ensure that the organization operates effectively now, but that it’s as future-proofed as it can be.
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