By Andy Popple
Most medical groups, and privately held companies, are governed by owners who serve on the board of directors. For independent medical groups, Medical Management Services often provides assistance in evaluating effectiveness of a particular board structure, including number, make-up, selection process, term and nature of agendas. One area often overlooked is the very nature of board members, which is a significant contributing factor in any leadership committee’s success.
Think for a minute about what should happen in the board room: it’s here where project priorities and goals are set, corporate policy is made, where capital is deployed and where organization values are modeled. These boardroom “happenings” are at the core of board member’s fiduciary responsibilities, the evidence of board member’s commitment to accountable governance. Because the board has responsibility to manage a given organization’s business and affairs, individual board members must act in an appropriate and responsible manner.
What makes an effective board member? Medical Management Services routinely suggests that persons possessing the following traits will likely distinguish themselves as being effective board members:
- High Integrity: Board members act with professionalism and integrity. They understand the way board members act as individuals and as a collective unit impact the overall climate of the organization. They listen carefully to colleagues and are respectful to patients and staff. They are honest and open, acting with fairness and consistency so that long-term goals can be achieved. They respect their fellow board members’ right to hold differing views. They are committed to a democratic process, accept the rule of majority and support the decisions of the board.
- Commitment: Effective board members are committed to a fair and equitable system for all shareholders, and to maintaining an ethical balance between individual and organization-wide needs. They recognize and understand organizational philosophy, identify with it, articulate it, and defend it with enthusiasm. A board member should not be solely, if ever, committed to their “personal agenda” in the setting of board participation. There is no room for personal agendas at the table and the collective board should not tolerate any hint of such maneuverings.
- Involvement: Effective board members listen, read what they receive, request information when applicable, ask questions, consider options, weigh answers, and make reasoned decisions. An effective board member strives to cultivate unison and harmony among the board, and differentiates between issues that require board action and those that should be resolved by administration.
- Knowledge: An effective board member understands the essential workings of a corporate organization and understands the bylaws and values, vision and purpose of the organization well.
- Listening: Advisors may not always be right and are usually not well informed; however, effective board members know when to solicit professional advice, and they listen when advisors speak. Professional advice need not always be followed, but should be given proper weight in evaluating pending matters or evolving issues.
- Observant: The effective board member is alert to signs of trouble – management issues, financial issues, legal issues, operational issues, personnel issues, or IRS issues. And, when signs of a significant issue are observed, effective board members take steps to resolve the matter.
- Avoids Conflicts of Interest: Effective board members avoid “personal agendas.” The organization, the board or individual directors should never allow or tolerate personal interests/agendas to sway decisions of the board. Board members must focus on achieving the values, vision and purpose of the organization, which should benefit all owners, not an individual department or a physician.
- Establishes Management Performance Standards: Effective board members establish management performance standards and hold management accountable to meet those standards. This sometimes-difficult and potentially sensitive task must be done as a matter of fiduciary obligation and in a matter of fact style. The effective board membermatter of fiduciary obligation and in a matter of fact style. The effective board member does not allow deference to friendship to interfere with responsibilities to assess, select, and support effective management.
- Community Involvement: Effective board members not only understand responsibilities in representing the best interests of their organization, they also understand the need to represent the organization outside the board room walls. A board member can gain industry specific knowledge from involvement in industry specific organizations such as Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) or the American College of Physician Executive (ACPE) for medical professionals. Involvement in community-based organizations such as United Way, Rotary International or many others can bring personal satisfaction and also benefit the reputation of a board members organization.
- The Unknown: This is a bit of a teaser and intentionally so. I have left number ten for you to fill in. Every organization is different and usually has unique circumstances which require unique traits of board members. This can be very complex such as very technical knowledge about X or Y and some may be very simple like an outspoken personality style.
Hopefully these ten traits will give you some assistance is setting expectations for potential board members in your organization and can also serve as an excellent orientation tool for new, and old, board members that need a refresher about what being a board member entails.