Reinvigorating the Board of Directors Through a Dynamic Strategic Thinking Process

Corporate Partners | December 18, 2012

Over the past few years, boards of directors of single-site providers have often been pressured to focus on the immediate issues of occupancy, debt service coverage and consolidation of operations. Using the strategic process as a tool to invigorate the board requires a thoughtful approach and necessitates its own plan to achieve the desired outcome(s).

Over the past few years, boards of directors of single-site providers have often been pressured to focus on the immediate issues of occupancy, debt service coverage and consolidation of operations. As occupancies move higher, and stabilization becomes the norm, many CEOs are now challenged to move the board of directors into a role that is more focused on strategic and generative work. This is a particular challenge for boards who have had to weather significant impacts of the recession and are, quite frankly, tired. 

CEOs who recognize that their board needs to be invigorated are using various elements of the strategic planning process as a tool to that end. Richard Ingram, in his article, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Non Profit Boards, lists "Ensure Effective Planning" as the fourth item after "Mission," "CEO Selection" and "CEO Evaluation." Using the strategic process as a tool to invigorate the board requires a thoughtful approach and necessitates its own plan to achieve the desired outcome(s).

Boards that encompass strategic thinking as a framework to fulfill their duties are positioned for continuous learning. This framework approach involves the balancing of resource allocation with the leveraging of an organization's capacity to take advantage of opportunities presented. 

How can this occur? The CEOs responsibility is to bring the tools to the board and facilitate the process, not to do the work. Three key factors in the strategic process are internal analysis, external analysis and gap analysis. One CEO determined that part of their internal analysis should begin with a review of the role of the board. A 360° type of assessment tool of the board's roles and functions was used. It provided self-assessment of the board by the board as well as an assessment by the executive team regarding the board's roles and function.

One significant outcome of this process was the identification of gaps in agreement of roles and functions between board members themselves and also between the executive leadership and the board. The ensuing discussion moved the board to a firm foundation of purpose and process that was agreed upon throughout the organization.

In order to create a context of strategic thinking, understanding the external environment is essential. The external environment within which not for profit senior living exists today has changed significantly over the past five years and greater change is anticipated. Creating multiple learning opportunities for boards by using outside resources supports the external analysis process.

Market impacts, economic impacts, health care impacts, and competitive impacts are all external influencers that enable organizations to understand opportunities and threats. Ziegler bankers are often engaged to present trends, pilot projects and concerns for organizations. The application of this data in the external analysis process provides a board with the context for making strategic decisions.

As the board moves into a strategic and generative role, the discipline of gap analysis is a tool that supports realistic strategic thinking. It is not uncommon for a board to come up with a menu of "great ideas" which are strategic in nature and potentially feasible as their strategic plan. Applying the gap analysis process (resources required to accomplish versus resources available) enables the Board to identify additional resources such as fund development and also allows for the prioritization of strategies. 

Boards of directors that function in a framework of strategic thinking are highly engaged and committed to leading their organizations. CEOs with boards that are highly engaged assure a strong mission-fulfilling organization for the future. 

Rebecca Neth Townsend, Senior Vice President, Ziegler