Working as an Organizational Development Consultant the last nine years with HFHI, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of affiliates facing various governance and operational issues. One of the more common issues I’ve dealt with relates to the dynamics of the relationship between the Executive Director/CEO and Board of Directors. While personality issues sometimes get in the way, the more fundamental reason for a breakdown in this relationship is more likely attributed to understanding (or lack thereof) the roles and responsibilities of the parties. Both have distinct and separate roles in this relationship.
Ultimately, the board of directors has the responsibility of charting the vision, providing resources, risk management and ensuring oversight of the affiliate. In the broad sense, we define this as “Governance”. It is the sole purview and responsibility of the board of directors.
On the other side of the equation is the responsibility of the day-to-day operation of the affiliate. Making sure bills are paid, policies followed, family selection and support, construction activity, staff oversight and ReStore operations are just a few of the areas that need addressed on a daily basis. These are more attributed to “Management” rather than “Governance.” Responsibilities for these areas clearly belong to the Executive Director/CEO as the chief executive for the affiliate.
While these duties between the two should relatively balance out, that is not often the case. Smaller affiliates who are hiring their first Executive Director often struggle in this area. Board members who have been doing both board (governance) and operational (management) tasks for the affiliate are often reluctant to relinquish their authority in operational areas. This complicates the work of the Executive Director in not only building the relationship bridge with the board but also adds confusion for the Executive Director as to his/her role. For larger, staff-led affiliates, board turnover (new personalities, new vision, etc.) is a likely reason roles may get misunderstood or lines of responsibility blurred.
No matter where an affiliate may fall in its organizational maturity, it is critical for both board and staff to understand the delineation of duties. As a rule of thumb, the board is doing board work when the board is in session. Outside of a formal board meeting, board members who may be serving on affiliate operational committees (construction, family support, etc.) are really now just an extension of staff in the operational role. For board members, knowing when to wear the “board hat” and when to wear the “operational committee hat” can be confusing and challenging. Unless they figure that out, the affiliate will most likely be in a state of dysfunction.
In closing, the relationship between the Executive Director/CEO and Board is one of the most important organizational dynamics to understand as it has a profound influence on affiliate success and morale. Only through education and training can board members fully understand their role and responsibility. If the affiliate can keep these relationships in balance, the less chance of conflict the affiliate will have.
Frank Gorman serves as Field Operations Manager, State Support Organizations. Prior to coming to HFHI, he served as Executive Director for Dayton OH Habitat for Humanity. He was also on the founding board for HFH Ohio and currently serves as Treasurer for the SSO.
Frank is co-presenting a workshop at Camp Colorado on Board and Executive Directors Relationships.