Strategically Sound

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles that will look at the responsibility of boards and how to create dialogue to improve them. Although there are no right and wrong answers to the following suggestions, it is important to note that you should have answers in order to maximize board potential.

A hot topic for high-performance boards deals with methods to stay focused on the “forest” without losing sight of the “trees” and governance. Garey (a long-time board member) and I strive to keep my bosses and his fellow board members focused on strategic issues while maintaining a foundation of information to problem-solve specific issues as they arise. We also feel it is essential for board members to review and respond to tactical reports without becoming side-tracked on detailed, routine, operational decisions and activities. Closely associated with this is governance, which is linked to the process of differentiating between strategic and tactical activities and behaviors.

Balancing Strategic And Tactical Activities

Tactical and strategic policy directions are equally important functions of high-performance boards. The majority of a board’s time is spent on tactical issues--the pressing day-to-day political or project activities. However, it is important to integrate strategic thinking as part of every board’s behavior. It takes commitment and time to get the right mix. Here are a few methods to activate your “strategicness.”


· Make “strategic” time on your agenda. Rich debate won’t flourish if board members use the entire meeting to focus on operational issues. Ensure that your agenda is focused on the most important items.

· Pose provocative questions, or provide articles to stimulate thinking and promote discussion.

· Have presentations that represent new concepts or new areas for service.

· Challenge the thoughts and behaviors of others. Some boards rotate the role of “devil’s advocate” to challenge assumptions and probe traditional


· Strengthen your board’s composition. Members may become jaded or bored, and then may find it difficult to be engaged, energetic, creative and strategic in their thinking.

· Create an environment where the excitement of the profession and the new horizons for service are at the forefront of their efforts.


· Find a day or half-day to bring all board members and selected staff together, away from the typical routine, and discuss the one-year and five-year needs of your organization and community.

· Spend time hearing and discussing national trends. Assign staff to provide this information from their respective areas of expertise.

· Consider using facilitators to help draw out discussion points and build consensus for goal-setting. The use of other community members can be equally valuable.

· Bring in special guests (mayor, school superintendent, chamber of commerce executive, etc.) to simply lay out their perceptions of your services and facilities and what they think your community needs. (There are no wrong answers--just perceptions. And perceptions are the realities we have to deal with.)

And remember, the best practice is when your citizen board members begin to base their tactical decisions on strategic outcomes.

Tom Lovell has been the administrator of Parks and Recreation in Lee’s Summit, Mo., for 29 years. He can be reached via e-mail at