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Gaining Governance Consistency: How to Reduce the Annual Speed Bump

Each year a substantial percentage of clubs experience a change in board members and officers. The result is an annual adjustment period as the new president, new officers and a board of several new members establish themselves in their respected positions. Often club bylaws will designate the president as the chief executive officer without spelling out what that means. Lacking any clarification, a new president is left to decide how much autonomy can or will be exercised by the general manager over their term, which is often only one year. The combination of a new president finding their way as the general manager and a board adjusting to new directors produces what we call the annual speed bump, which causes a slow up prior to the annual election and an adjustment to new leadership after the election.

The best way to reduce the impact of the annual speed bump is to use a board policies manual (BPM) to set policy that can be amended only by the majority of the board. Even if a third of the board turns over, there will be two thirds of the board to provide stability. A BPM also contains policies that clarify the role of the president. This doesn’t mean that the president’s role is diminished; rather, it is defined. For example, a BPM might specify that the president chairs the board, works closely with the general manager, chairs the annual meeting, and serves as the spokesperson for the club. As the title implies, the primary duty of the president is to “preside,” to manage the board and hold it accountable to follow its policies. 

Although the annual change in officers and board members at a club will quite likely produce a speed bump, the impact of the bump can be dramatically lessened by developing a BPM that contains policies that will require the entire board to amend and policies that describe the role and authority of the officers—particularly the role and authority of the president. The function of the BPM is not to protect the status quo at all costs, but rather to ensure that changes are made after due deliberation by the board as a whole.

Guard Against Strategic Plan Disruption

Even more potentially damaging than the annual speed bump is an interruption in the implementation of the club’s strategic plan. Normally the planning horizon of a strategic plan is three to five years. Therefore, for the plan to be effective, it needs to be honored year over year. If a new president or a board comprising new members no longer supports the plan, it will obviously cease to have its value. Good strategic plans inform decisions in the present that will have positive effects in the future. But when the future becomes the present, the plan must still be operative as the basis for decision-making. A new president deciding on their own that the plan is no longer relevant not only causes the plan to lose its influence, but it may also foment distrust in the board’s vision, skepticism in the strategic planning process and postponements of any planning efforts well into the future.

Guarding against a disruption in the execution of a club’s strategic plan requires two factors:

  1. Ensure that the plan is board-owned—not the product of the Strategic Planning Committee, the vision of a new president or a recommendation from a consultant. The adoption of the plan must be approved by at least a majority of the board and possibly a super-majority. 
  2.  Incorporate the strategic plan by reference in a BPM. It should include a policy making clear that the role of the plan is to provide the basis for decisions made by the board and the staff, and the requirement to review the plan annually and adjust it only if approved by a majority of board members.