Are You Holding Executive Sessions … Regularly?

Are You Holding Executive Sessions … Regularly?
By Tim Harrington and Kevin Smith

At times directors should meet without the CEO or others present. This is an opportunity to raise questions or concerns in a closed environment. This session allows the board to maintain independence from senior management. Done regularly it is part of the culture. Done too rarely and it creates concerns.

Executive sessions or closed meetings, are an opportunity for the board to meet confidentially, with only board members present. Though the board may choose, or not, to invite others to attend.

Executive Sessions

Executive (in camera) Sessions

*For the folks out there who are nerdy about language like me, these sessions are also called in camera (literally in a chamber) sessions. Our good friend Latin rearing its head here. And I think it may be obvious why that may be a very confusing term that is no longer used in this day and age of viral video and smart phones with cameras, especially since we’re referring to a meeting that is closed. – Kevin

We believe you need the Executive Sessions. Periodically and routinely. The board needs the opportunity to have confidential environment, where only directors are present, so that people can speak freely. This may be about board challenges or governance issues, CEO compensation, or performance. It may concern the auditor’s report, or it may simply happen regularly to reinforce the idea that the board is independent of management and that there will be a place to express concerns.

Strategic Planning and the Worst Metaphors I can Come Up With

Strategic Planning and the Worst Metaphors I can Come Up With: Hunting Baby Elephants and Killing Sacred Cows

by Kevin Smith

I recently had the pleasure of spending several days with a credit union working with their board on strategic governance, then with the board and senior team together on strategic planning. This work is really fulfilling, and rewarding. Hopefully the credit unions get half as much out of it as I do. Part of the fun of doing this really difficult work is establishing rapport between myself and the group I’m with, and helping them increase the level of rapport and critical dynamic among the participants in the session.

Inevitably throughout the day we end up creating inside jokes, a shorthand of references that only we understand. In this particular session, I found myself unnerved at one point because in the same sentence we were talking about killing baby elephants and hunting down sacred cows. Such violent language and imagery! How did we end up here?! These are not my favorite kinds of inside jokes. Alas, here we were … and I’m trying to salvage the value of these metaphors for the benefit they are supposed to bring.

Let Them Surprise You with the Results

by Kevin Smith

“Don’t tell people HOW to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and let them surprise you with the results.”

George S. Patton Jr.

Good leadership means sometimes giving up some control. Credit union board members (and many CEOs) have the chance to unleash the power of their staff on their members and the world by loosening up to let them surprise you with the results.

Last week I had the good fortune to be invited to facilitate theIntentional Credit Union Leadership event held by the Michigan Credit Union League. It was a great event with so many great attendees who are leaders, leaders-in-training, and those hoping and trying to develop in that direction. I was inspired by what I saw.

We did a number of things to make the room help inspire thinking towards leadership and creativity, to get people in the mindset of the event. For one, we had inspirational leadership quotes around the room, and we asked the attendees to write and share their favorite aspirational aphorisms. The words from General Patton that you see on the top of the page were among them.

What Board Meetings Should Accomplish

Credit union board members should keep a clear focus on what they should accomplish in each meeting. To be efficient directors can try to follow this rule of thirds: Strategic Discussion, Reporting and Education. It will keep the focus and improve performance.

by Tim Harrington & Kevin Smith

As we travel around the country working with credit unions, we’re so fortunate to meet great people who are part of the credit union movement. We get to interact with those who have a great deal of experience, people who are happy to share what they’ve learned over the years. We’ve had the opportunity to learn some great practices (and a little bit of nonsense) over the years which we always try to pass along (usually not the nonsense).

The Best/Worst Pencil Sharpener: A Note on Sharpening Your Focus & Difficult Decisions in Strategy

Credit unions are challenged to sharpen their strategic focus. To do this they need to make hard decisions about what they will and what they won’t do. Saying “no” to things can be challenging.

by Kevin Smith

I know, I know. I can just hear the comments now, “You’re writing about what?! AND you’re going to lead with a pun like that?!?!” Yes, I have some thoughts about my pencil sharpener that I’d like to share. And I swear that I think that they are totally relevant to credit unions and strategy.

There … in the picture. That’s it. The pencil sharpener that I’d like to talk about. It’s awful looking isn’t it? It’s huge, and heavy. A “Boston Champion.” And here’s a feature: it’s kinda hard to use. It takes three hands to successfully use. Well … sort of. Once you get the hang of it you can do it with two hands. There’s video below so you can see it in action.  Much about it is clunky and inconvenient.  And here are the steps involved to make it work:

Calibrating the Strategy between the Staff and the Board

As board members get better at staying out of operations and focusing on strategy, sometimes the new problem is calibrating that strategy. This means making sure that the staff and the board are on the same page about what that strategy means for their day-to-day activities.

By Kevin Smith

I love the word “calibrate.” It sounds so scientific and important. It sounds like you’re really doing something worthwhile when you calibrate something. And let’s face it … it sounds so much better than “checking to see that we’re on the same page.” Pffftttt. What a lame metaphor that is.

The more planning sessions I facilitate, the more I’m seeing the disconnect between how the board sees what’s going on and how the staff sees things. And isn’t that exactly what the strategic planning session is supposed to accomplish? To align these perspectives? But it seems that what we agreed on last year, wrote down (hopefully), and moved forward with, often morphs into two different plans. One for the board and one for the staff.
To quote a notable lawman from the movies, with some cool sunglasses, “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”

The U.S. Yield Curve & Things Coming Soon

Tim Harrington

In a slight departure from our typical blog style, I’d like to comment, if briefly about the news that I’m keeping up with. Part of what we do at TEAM Resources is try to help our clients, and our followers keep an eye on what’s going on that might impact the financial services industry. Lately, the trusted news resources that I follow have been noting some economic trends that I think are worth paying attention to and sharing. For example, here’s a recent headline from David Ader at Bloomberg:
The U.S. Yield Curve Is Sending the Right Signals
The economy is exhibiting classic late-cycle behavior, and a recession may not be too far off.
Click below for the full story. 
With this information we encourage you to consider how this impacts your organization particularly as we head into the “typical” strategic planning season. 


Coming Soon

Beyond the U.S. yield curve, I want to also point you towards something that Kevin Smith has in the works: The Board Governance Video Series. This is coming soon to the TEAM Resources website. This will be a valuable, ongoing resource for credit union boards and executives. Check out the preview below or  here.


Dealing with the Weakest Link

Dealing with the Weakest Link 
Do you have a “weakest link”? Then stop behaving like a chain. Be a Net.

Teams often use the “weakest link” and team-as-a-chain metaphor. This becomes a way to deflect blame and avoid accountability. Stop this mindset and behavior and create shared accountability to improve the dynamic and the performance. Don’t act like a chain. Try being a net.

by Kevin Smith

Are you the weakest link? Can you easily single out the weakest link on your team? This metaphor of team-as-a-chain has become so common and recognizable that they named a verkakte* television show from it for a while. We all know this trite phrase. 
(*Yiddish word which sort of means very bad.)

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, right? I get it. It sort of makes sense. You can easily picture this and how it works. It’s visual. It’s tactile.

Right and Wrong Times to Deal with Governance Issues

Right and Wrong Times to Deal with Governance Issues

Boards of directors often end up taking time to deal with their governance issues, and learning, in the wrong places at the wrong times. Boards have a limited amount of time to do their work and if it’s not efficient and on track, they will end up taking up time meant for other activities, such as a strategic planning meeting, to try to address their governance issues. This is distracting and a poor use of time for those taking part and to the goals of the session.

Tim Harrington and Kevin Smith

We regularly use the metaphor of walking a tightrope for talking about what it means to work at the most efficient levels of strategic governance. Go too far in one direction and the board is too strong, taking over operations or micromanaging. Too far in the other direction is too weak, not keeping up with issues, and rubber stamping without proper oversight. Here’s the thing about tightrope walking – you have to tweak and adjust at every moment along the way. Good strategic governance is the same way, constant adjustment.

Board Members: Stop Trying to “Help” Your CEOs

Staying at the strategic level can be difficult for credit union board members. When their “day job” involves getting things done at a tactical level, seeing tactical results is how they know they’re effective and it’s what their evaluated on. The natural impulse is to try to “help” their credit union’s CEO. This often causes conflict and unclear roles.

by Kevin Smith

I know. I know. The headline sounds ridiculous but I’m not going to back down. You’re thinking I’ve lost my marbles or at least my focus with that statement. Why wouldn’t you try tohelp your CEO? Why would you try to make things harder and worse for the credit union and thus the members? Bear with me as I try to explain. I think I have a valid point to make.

Often creditunion board members have or had careers that involve getting “stuff” done, checking off projects, tasks, etc., that are by their very natures more operational, in the nitty gritty of the business they’re in. This is a pretty wide generalization here to be sure, and board members that I’ve met across the country come from a wide set of backgrounds. Sure, they may have some involvement or input on the strategic plan of their department or their organization, but it’s typically not where they spend the bulk of their time.