Tough questions

If strategic planning is on the horizon for your organization, you'll want to take a look at the latest issue of Great Boards where contributing editor Barry Bader lists 10 edgy questions that can help clarify a board's thinking about the future. The article is written for governance leaders within hospitals and health care systems, but it's not much of a stretch to apply Bader's advice in your setting.

Don't be put off by Bader's choice of the adjective "edgy" in the article's title. As he explains, "Edgy questions aren't disloyal, they reflect the ultimate loyalty -- that commitment to the mission and mutual trust are so strong that leaders can challenge themselves and never accept the status quo as the only alternative."

You'll want to click on over to Great Boards for the full text. In the meantime, here are the questions, without Bader's commentary.

Now for the questions

  1. As a first step toward clarifying the board's vision and testing the organization's progress, ask: "How will we know when we've succeeded and how we can measure our progress along the way?"
  2. Reveal untapped or underexploited strategic choices by asking: "If we only had _____, we'd be much better off at achieving _____."
  3. Frame strategic choices from the constituent's perspective by asking "should we?" rather than "can we?"
  4. Ask about aims, not tactics. In other words, the board should focus on anticipated outputs over operational strategies.
  5. Test the mission fit of your vision and strategies by taking a stakeholder's perspective.
  6. Challenge the organization's capacity for change by asking: "Do our plans so far lay out realistic aims?"
  7. Explore the implications of "life in the gap" between the first and second curve payment and delivery systems. Since reduced earnings may be a product of proposed change, how much patience will be required by stakeholders in getting from here to there?
  8. Challenge pivotal assumptions with constructive skepticism: "What makes us believe that _____ will occur now when it hasn't before?"
  9. Spur innovation by looking beyond current business and program models.
  10. Challenge the board's capacity to lead transformative change.

Some board members may squirm the first go-round with edgy questions, but a little discomfort in the present almost always leads to better plans for the future. Boards that limit their discussions to easy topics and bland discussions do not serve an organization well. Edgy questions are among the most powerful tools in the governance toolbox. So let the questions flow.


Cross-posted from Rebekah Burch Basinger's excellent fundraising and governance blog, Generous Matters.