A Book Review: Transformational Governance: How Boards Achieve Extraordinary Change. By Beth Gazley & Katha Kissman

Guest Post by Kevin Smith, Publisher, TEAM Resources

“If you truly want to understand something, try to change it.” Kurt Lewin, often referred to as the father of modern Social Psychology.

If you’re anything like me (and I assume that you are), then you have too many books piling up literally and virtually, too many articles saved, too many emails with links to information that you’re supposed to keep up with these days. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in it. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I stumbled across Transformational Governance: How Boards Achieve Extraordinary Change by Beth Gazley and Katha Kissman a full year and a half after it came out. But I’m sure glad that I found it. (Full disclosure: I hired Katha Kissman to speak at a CUNA Volunteer event several
years ago. She’s cool, yo.)

Gazley and Kissman’s book was produced with data and support from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), known around here as the Association Association. It is built on data from two significant ASAE surveys, and then made tangible through plentiful use of case studies … stories that make it hit home. Now, I already hear you out there grumbling, under your breath (that’s good hearing from an aging drummer) – “these are association board members; they’re not credit union board members. We’re different. We don’t have the same issues and problems.” Bull puckey! The stories were SO familiar, and SO similar that I was a bit astounded. AND, there are several places where credit union people are represented and referred to. I’m not going to let you use that excuse. Non-profit board members of all areas h
ave more commonalities than differences, and credit union directors fall into this group.

The authors here dig in deep, examining what it takes for nonprofit boards to recognize need for change in their organizations and then take the steps to move through change that is “transformational,” that affects the core of the organization, its focus and its effectiveness. They examine those that successfully made to effort to find out what common threads exist for others to learn from.

TransformationThere were dozens of things that I found remarkable in this book, from insights that mirrored my own experience and reinforced my beliefs, to those that were fresh and unique that I’m anxious to explore more. Gazley and Kissman remind us that change at its core is an human endeavor that is never quite just “about business” but is quickly emotional. They draw on the body of research within the field of organizational development to offer methods of change agency that we can use to address the emotional and the business sides of transformation.

Gazley and Kissman discuss “Catalysts and Watersheds,” events that instigate change. They acknowledge that “governance change does not share a single starting point,” and then pore through the ASAE survey data to find the common threads that show up from board member experience and how to deal with them. The healthy reminder here is that “organizational leaders must recognize that any new event – whether crisis or grand success – may offer a window of opportunity for a new outlook on governance.” In other words: Take advantage of those “moments” to affect positive change. The board leaders in their case studies reflect on the “trigger events” that helped push transformational change forward.

A significant portion of the book is dedicated, in sections, to guidance in “Leading Sideways” (a director among directors), “Leading Up” (CEOs leading governance change), and “Leading Forward” (the board chair stepping up). They provide well rounded examples and stories for all of these angles, leaving those of us who want to cop out with “it’s up to      (Fill in someone else’s role here)      to take this on,” no excuses, but they do provide significant support.

So … for our credit union volunteer friends out there – I’ve heard many of you over the years ask about stagnation, remaining relevant in a dramatically changing world, board engagement, among other things. This book offers plenty of guidance on those topics. Gazley and Kissman acknowledge that they can’t offer specific solutions to specific circumstances all of the time, and that every board is as unique as its members. But they also made good use of data and identifications of trends to offer a range of advice. They present nuanced and thoughtful theories and approaches taking on the often-necessary task of trying to lead boards to “extraordinary change.” Credit union directors, CEOs, and interested parties would be wise to give their work a read.

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