Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Best Practices for Working with Governing Boards

working with governing boardsFor years, hospitals have reaped the benefits of diversity when recruiting directors for their governing boards. Each member of a well-balanced board brings his or her unique contribution— social and political connections or business experience and expertise. Sometimes the organization goes so far as to recruit “c-suite” leaders from this rich resource.

But there are limits to the number of board members and senior executives for even the largest healthcare entities. As healthcare continues to become more and more complex, many hospitals long for an even broader range of expertise among their leaders. Creative leaders have man- aged to augment their knowledge base by creating advisory teams in addition to administration and boards of directors.

Some organizations form task forces or special committees for specific projects—like facility design and expansion or reworking a strategic plan. Others maintain a special advisory board that meets four to six times per year for highly focused sessions on just one or two strategic issues each time.

Does your group practice suffer from intellectual inbreeding? When your idea “gene pool” remains closed to outside influence, you risk making the same mistakes over and over. Problems become “unsolvable” because you’ve tried every- thing you can think of—to no avail.

Practices usually rely on outside sources for fresh ideas—seminars, publications, professional advisors and consultants, and even casual conversations with peers in the surgery lounge. All of these are valuable, but here’s an idea that will really get you thinking outside the box: How about forming a practice advisory board?

You would start by identifying several business leaders in your community, each of whom could bring a different professional or business angle to the discussion. Attorneys, accountants, hospital administrators, real estate brokers, financial advisors, retail store managers, politicians, bankers, and religious leaders—any successful leader in the community may qualify. But why would any of them want to participate and help you out? You might be surprised.

Business leaders—true leaders—tend to be conscientious folks who might say “yes” for any of the following reasons:
  • It’s an honor to be invited. You’re telling the person that you recognize his or her success, expertise, and knowledge.
  • It’s good for the community. Emphasize that this is more than just an attempt to be a successful business, but that you want to improve healthcare quality in your area.
  • It’s good networking. A few successful invitations will precipitate other affirmative answers, so try to get a few “key” leaders on board first.
  • It’s a good time. Do your best to make it enjoy- able. Host your meetings at a nice restaurant, be well prepared, and keep the conversations lively.
  • It’s good business. Find ways to re-pay your advisors’ efforts by being involved in their pet projects and supporting their causes, too. An advisory board could meet as seldom as twice a year—quarterly might be better for a developing practice. As you build your agenda for each meeting, stay focused on very few issues— two or three at most. Here are four overarching principles that will help you have a successful advisory board:
  • Don’t waste members’ time by ignoring their advice. Make sure you use what you learn from them. Report back to them on how you have incorporated their advice in your business plan.
  • Structure the discussion around two or three questions you’d like the advisory board to answer. As a room full of experts discusses possible solutions, they’ll likely introduce new issues and questions you never thought of.
  • Prepare meticulously for each meeting. Pre-publish your agenda to the members so they can be thinking about your issues. Have PowerPoint slides, spreadsheets, diagrams, and data well polished and on hand at the meeting.
  • Avoid dominating the conversation. You’re there to receive advice, not to give it. Nor are you there to defend your position on any issue. Listen. You could absolutely transform your group practice with an advisory board. And you could greatly enhance your standing in the community at the same time.
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