The Heart Of High-Performance Boards

Boards are established to govern, which is a vital function for the health of their respective organizations. This responsibility is not about “good relations” with the staff or community prestige, but it is essential in providing public accountability. It is the process of challenging the performance of the organization as it relates to its mission. It is about being informed and making policy that assures that resources are focused on the mission.

Here are some steps to improve governance:

· Create dialogue at the board level as to what the governance activities should entail.

· Investigate other governance models and examine new ways to provide oversight and leadership. Have joint meetings with other boards to “compare notes.”

· Answer these critical questions:

1. Who are we?

2. What is our mission?

3. What are our core values?

4. How can we make better decisions?

5. What questions are we not asking?

· Carefully review the information that is provided to you as a board member for meetings and as a part of routine communication. Is it useful in helping to assess the performance of the organization? Review the board packets and routine communication of other organizations. How do you compare?

· Create a code of ethics. Make it a part of the culture to ensure there are no extraneous factors affecting governance.

· Commit to a list of behaviors to ensure a high-performance board.

· Create a governance committee, and charge it with improving governance.

· Management by walking around is also applicable to governance. Visit the activities, parks and facilities often that your department manages. Take notes about what you see, and share with staff and other board members. Ask constructive, challenging questions, and watch for the “ripple effect” throughout the organization. Visit other park systems and do your own benchmarking.

· Ensure that board members know their responsibilities, including legal, regulatory, financial and political. Make sure you know the basics. Use training to assist in the process. Both state and national parks and recreation associations have resources to help accomplish this.

· Evaluate the director and board leadership annually.

· Research governance issues annually to stay abreast of trends.

· Seek governance expertise, counsel or training whenever in doubt, in crisis or in transition.

· Review your bylaws and compare them to your operating or organizational norms.

Governance sets the values and standards that are at the heart of organizations. Good governance is essential for obtaining good results.

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