Perpetuating Board Leadership Through Co-op Storytelling

Perpetuating Board Leadership Through Co-op Storytelling

  |  December 12, 2018

Board perpetuation is a perennial topic for boards. Turnover happens year to year as a cyclical part of board service. So, finding ways to maintain consistently strong governance needs to be a priority and continual task. Things can never stay exactly they as they are (or used to be), so how do boards keep positive momentum going? How do they individually and collectively share what they’ve done and learned to pass on to the future?

Board leadership development consultant Rose Marie Klee thinks that boards can achieve better results by planning for essential conversations about perpetuation throughout the year with each other, members, and future board candidates. An intentional effort will help boards move critical communications forward and keep the board’s focus on future.

“One of the challenges I see is that sometimes people ‘phone it in.’ They don’t mean to, but it can be a source of consternation to realize that the board may be vulnerable if they don’t work on staying connected to the board leadership work at the values level,” said Klee.

From Klee’s perspective, answering the question “why co-op?” is an important aid to board perpetuation. It helps directors articulate the reasons people patronize, join and serve the co-op. “You need to be able to answer the question as a board member and carry that answer outward to members and the community.”

She suggested taking time at board meetings to model and practice interacting with co-op and community members. Identify different audiences: long term customers, new people, and those who have never heard of the co-op. Practice answering these questions: Why do you patronize the co-op? What would you say to a coworker, friend, or acquaintance about the co-op? Why do you serve on the co-op board? And then consider how you could refine your answer when speaking to someone who has never heard of the co-op as opposed to someone who has been a member for years.

“It’s good to be prepared, and knowing the answers for ourselves helps us tell our stories to others. If you don’t have good answers, that says something too. As board leaders we need to share the vision of the co-op.” Klee thinks it’s always good to have something positive to communicate about the board “in your back pocket” for those impromptu situations when you are speaking to a member, networking, or socializing. She notes that for directors the challenge stems from having so many reasons to love the co-op that they don’t know where to begin telling their story in a compelling way, especially in very brief opportunities for interaction.

Board leadership consultant Thane Joyal agrees that it is imperative for board members to share stories about the co-op and their experiences. “Boards sometimes have a tough time connecting their leadership of the co-op to its presence in the community, so the co-op story might get pushed aside.”

That’s why Joyal thinks boards also need ongoing support for communication and perpetuation. Although these are fundamental to board work, it can become easy for them to get waylaid within the constellation of the other work the board has to do. “Co-ops that are looking at how the board’s voice can be brought forward, and show how the co-op is different, are paying attention to whose voices carry what message. The board can complement the story the co-op is trying to tell,” Joyal said.

One way to align communications throughout the co-op is to help everyone with a leadership role understand that what they say could be intentionally connected to the co-ops Ends. “We need to offer training or assistance so that board members can be public in a way that is sustainable for them. It’s a prominent role and it’s likely they will be approached by cashiers and members alike.”

“The more successful boards are good at telling the story of the co-op’s impact in the community and the board’s role within the co-op. It’s easier for them to invite people. And those successfully getting the message out have better recruitment.”

Rose Marie Klee also said that when people share what they do as board members, it helps grow an understanding of what the board does, and it demystifies the role. “This is particularly important for recruiting new board members, as it may resonate with them or be inspirational. When you are introducing new people to board work, also celebrate the service of each outgoing director. Share appreciation for their impact and contributions working together. It helps create closure and transition and shows the board’s heroism. It says to people ‘here’s what you can do on this board’ and that it’s an important legacy.”

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