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The Four Factors of Stellar Board-CEO Partnerships

“My board does not cause me stress. We have clear roles, good communication. I like them. I see them not only as adding to my own leadership but to the organization’s success. I see them as true partners in our work.”

That’s how Equitas founding CEO, Malka Borrego, described her partnership with her board at a recent BoardOnTrack event.

Similarly, here’s what Voices College-Bound Language Academies founding CEO, Frances Teso, has to say about her board: “I’m proud of our board. I like our board. I feel supported by our board. Because commitment to the mission was number one, before anything else.”

What’s their secret?

Well, other than both having been BoardOnTrack members for years, these CEOs have developed and continued to support a really strong partnership with their boards. And we’ve discovered that most stellar board-CEO partnerships are built on these four vital factors.

1. Use an Organizational Decisions Chart

Process is important. Get clear about the big decisions that need to be made this year. Clarify who has responsibility for which parts of the decisions. And reach consensus on decision deadlines and level of urgency. An Organizational Decisions Chart will help with that.

Annually, the board and CEO should work together to complete the chart. It should then guide the board’s work throughout the year.

Here’s an example of a decision your chart can help you clarify:

Your chart should cover all of the major decisions to be made within each functional area of governance. That includes academic excellence, finance, personnel, fundraising, facilities, governance, and CEO support & evaluation.

While the CEO might want to draft a chart to then share with the board chair and committee chairs for input, ultimately, this chart should be approved by the full board.

The best time to do this exercise is during the summer, in between school years. Consider planning yours during your annual data-driven governance retreat.

If you’re a BoardOnTrack member, you can access our sample Organizational Decisions Chart in the Resources section. Or just click here {you’ll be prompted to log and then taken straight to the tool}.

2. Strategically Use Your Time

A strong partnership depends on building in enough time to communicate and get on the same page as a governance team.

Think of it this way: If you need a decision by March 1st on something major, you’ll want to vote at the March meeting. So, at the January and February meetings, you should hold substantive and strategic discussions to inform the board’s decision.

To make sure you’re using your time strategically and allowing for the right opportunities to communicate:

  • Plan out all your board and committee meetings for the year around key dates and deadlines

  • Reserve enough time for deeper strategy sessions and to build a full understanding of the key strategic issues facing your organization.

  • The Board Chair and CEO should carefully plan board meeting agendas together.

  • Ensure you have substantive committees delving deeper into key topics in between board meetings. This, after all, is where the real work gets done. The committees should partner with CEO — or their staff designee — to own and present their work.

3. Create and Monitor Annual Board & CEO Goals

Your board’s goals make it crystal clear what the board is going to do to add value to the organization this year. And, what the CEO is expected to deliver on.

But don’t stop there. Make sure you have a system to hold trustees accountable to deliver on agreed-upon goals and tasks. Have in place a simple dashboard for the board to monitor progress at every board meeting. BoardOnTrack features a goals dashboard that allows you to organize and track goals and their related tasks at a glance.

4. Evaluate Your CEO

Even if you’ve never led a true CEO evaluation before, any time is a great time to start developing and adopting your process. And it can be a great way to start the new school year off on the right foot.

Make sure you follow a year-round CEO support and evaluation process. In fact, you should have a CEO Support & Evaluation Committee in place to lead the process.

The strongest board-CEO partnerships feature these four factors

It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. But it does take care and diligence to make your partnership work. And to keep it working over time.

If your board-CEO partnership isn’t working, it could be that one of these four key factors is out of alignment. Check out this list of action steps to strengthen your partnership today.

Or, schedule a time to talk with us about it. We’d love to get to know your board and tell you more about how BoardOnTrack is helping thriving charter organizations like Equitas, Voices, and hundreds more nationwide, to deliver exceptional results for their kids and families.

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