How to Stop Your Board from Micromanaging

Does your nonprofit board micromanage you?It starts innocently enough. A board member calls your program manager to answer a question. During the call, she tells the staff member how to use the information.
Months later, you realize that incident was the first time you noticed your board’s micromanaging habit. Micromanaging boards harm nonprofits. Micromanaged entities meander instead of beelining to their goals. Meandering nonprofits start trying to move in multiple directions simultaneously and end up going in circles.  Board members don’t mean to harm nonprofits when they micromanage, yet it happens.
What can you do to eradicate and prevent the board’s micromanaging habits? How can your actions redirect your board to focus on strategy and policy matters instead? Here are two to adopt today.

1. Establish Role Clarity

Each week, you and your staff interact with the board in dozens of ways.  When is the board member representing the board? When are they volunteering as individuals? Whenever they are meeting in a quorum, they transform into your board.  You will follow their collective directions.  When they are not in a quorum, they are acting as individuals, i.e., volunteers.

Look back over your last dozen interactions. What role did each board member take?

What role did you accept? How might you respond differently when individual board members issue orders?

To extinguish micromanaging, establish clarity about your board members’ authority in these two distinct situations. As part of their onboarding or during a meeting, review their roles. They will seek the logic of staff needing one set of guidelines, not half a dozen or more. (After all, too many cooks spoil the broth.) Ask them for advice, “How would you like to be reminded when they forget they’re acting without their other board members?

2. Strategy or Policy Questions Only

You asked for your board members to help your nonprofit. You must also teach them the best ways to help. That is how you need them to help. Use each step of the board member lifecycle to educate them. That is, ask prospects, recruits, and members for policy and strategy work. Include strategy and policy requests in your onboarding, agendas, and evaluation procedures. If you fail to teach your board how to help, they’ll assume their micromanaging is what you need. After all, setting policies and establishing strategies is hard work and helping you to manage easier.
Pull open our last board agenda. What items did you bring to them? Where are the management decisions? Or policy and strategy questions?  Label management decision “M” and the strategy or policy issues “SP.” How did you do? Many nonprofit leaders are embarrassed when they realize they’ve been inviting board micromanaging. It’s a common error. The good news is that you can quickly correct it.
Create two separate categories of agenda items on your next board meeting agenda, one labeled “For Your Information” for all your management information. Label the second, “Board Decisions.” Place items that require board advice here.

 Thrive in the Tension

“Good fences make good neighbors,” Robert Frost’s words inspired this post and the video below. Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, begins“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Twice in verse, Frost’s neighbor tells him, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The poem epitomizes the need to keep your board focused on their work. When your board focuses on determining your strategy and establishing policies, your board leverages everyone’s efforts. In the poem, Frost and his neighbor mend your fences. Mend your staff-board tasks boundary breaches.
You can change your board’s micromanaging habit. Start with these simple and effective steps. Open your calendar, and make an appointment with yourself. Use the time to evaluate how clear you’ve been with your board about their role.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to explore how to redirect your board’s micromanaging tendencies.  I’d love to help your board focus on its role, developing strategies and policies for your nonprofit, and helping you to win.