Your chamber board can be a spectacular force behind the success of your chamber or it can feel like a prima donna party full of drama. Sadly, in the latter case, you may have inherited the drama and not caused it on your own. Maybe it’s time for a chamber board bootcamp – even if it’s a secret one.
Because it still needs to be fixed.
As the saying goes, “It’s not your fault, just your problem.”
But if you’re tired of it being a problem, you need to enact the following “boot camp” protocols.
Boot camp is not easy but it is necessary. You have to get the chamber “house” in order so that you can make the transition to a hardworking board.
That requires a sometimes painful transition.
Here’s a list of ways to get your chamber board back in gear:
#1 Say Good-bye
If you owned a business and you had the budget for only three employees, you would know how important those employees would be to you. You would want to ensure that everyone was working as hard as they could and that they were happy.
If someone wasn’t pulling their weight, you would have to address the issue fairly quickly. In a 3-4 person shop, there’s not much room for do nothings. If you left the underachiever in place, your other two employees would have to work harder and would either come to resent the underperformer or would join that person in sitting around and broadcasting their negativity.
Now, instead of having one slacker, you have two or more. No one wants that in their business.
The same is true of your board.
If you have an underachiever who has more excuses than members to their name, and their behavior goes unaddressed, they are doing several things:
- They are making you look bad professionally.
- They are being held to a different standard (a lower one) than everyone else.
- They are creating an environment of “if they don’t have to why should I?”
This will weaken your chamber in the long-run.
You have to make peace with the fact that if you want an engaged, working board that you will lose some people. People who thought it would be a good resume builder or wanted the prestige without the work will leave.
You want it that way.
Every one of your board members is taking up space. That’s a good thing when it comes to hard workers who are engaged in what the chamber is doing. But if they’re not contributing, you may have to politely show them the door or put them through your chamber board bootcamp and move past them so they’ll find the door themselves.
This means negotiating the politics and drama behind doing this. Adopt a mantra where you recognize you are doing what’s best for chamber growth. Even Mother Nature has to shed leaves every year to grow and flourish the next.
#2 Get Right With By-laws
Moving on, as illustrated above, is easier when certain things are in the by-laws or a chamber board document.
You want a document that the prospective board member signs that communicates expectations and what will happen if the board member doesn’t meet them.
For instance, if there are four board meetings a year, how many of those must they attend? Two? Three? At what point are they derelict in their duties? Spell this out and make sure the board person understands the ramifications of not adhering to the board’s responsibilities.
Finally, don’t just hand them the document and wait for them to sign. You want to have a board retreat and/or a board training session so that everyone understands the work involved and how they will be held to it.
#3 Build The Board Up (But Not too Much)
After you establish what’s expected of them, you want to make sure your board feels appreciated.
However, board membership is an exclusive opportunity for top leaders in your community. If they don’t do what is expected, there are others who will gladly replace them.
For many, the problem lies in believing the chamber board is no different than being on an opera or corporate board. They think it’s a who’s who opportunity to be seen in the community, not a who’s getting the job done position.
This is an important differentiator that should be spelled out.
#4 Recruit for Attitude and Energy
It’s hard to be a do-nothing, stick-in-the-mud when you are surrounded by exciting energy. When you recruit board members, look at attitude and energy. Yes, connections are nice and valuable. But attitude is infectious.
You no longer need forty years of community leadership for board members. Sometimes inexperienced people bring in exciting energy and a different perspective.
#5 Be True to Your Culture or the Dream of It
Building on what’s mentioned above, recruit for the chamber and culture you want to have, not what you currently have. Think about why you’re disenchanted with your board and considering your own version of chamber board bootcamp. What are they not doing? What could they do less of?
Don’t recruit the same type of person who’s bringing you down, no matter how well connected they are. Chamber board member is not a fit for everyone. It is an exclusive position. Some people may be turned away.
As you work on your chamber culture, people who like that type of culture will be attracted to it, while those who don’t will likely fall away. That’s when you’ll know you’re growing and moving in the direction of your dreams.
Recruit what you’re missing. Think about board members’ strengths and weaknesses. What do you need or what do you need to tone down? What diversity of thought and experience could help you at this moment? Recruit accordingly.
#6 Help People Thrive
You’ll often hear “you can be anything you set your mind to.” While that may be true in a conceptual sense, some of us are simply better suited for some roles than others. An introvert, for instance, can make small talk but it’s draining to do so. An extrovert can be contemplative but they’ll be left wanting more.
Get to know your board members and understand what they are good at and what interests them. Then go to work creating opportunities and challenges that they will find intriguing and feel good about.
#7 Know Their Role: Treasure, Time, and Talent
This really could’ve been added in the setting expectations area but it’s so important in creating a working board that we gave it its own heading.
Every one of your board members should understand that being nominated to sit on the chamber board means they should be willing to donate treasure, time, and talent.
The donation of treasure means your board member will be donating in some form (sponsorship dollars, event tickets, in-kind donations, advertising, etc.) to the chamber. Chamber board membership is not a free lunch. The board member is investing in the chamber.
If a board member is not a good source of discretionary funds (as may be the case with someone new to town or new to their industry), they can still help with the “treasure” expectation by calling others and asking them to sponsor, donate, or buy.
Chamber board members are also expected to give the chamber time. Whether that’s calling and welcoming new chamber members or approaching their friends to buy event tickets, a time commitment is expected.
If you don’t have an ambassadors group (or even if you do) the board should, at the very least, be liking and sharing your social media posts. For events posted on Facebook, they should mark themselves “interested” even if they can’t go. This will ensure their friends see that they are interested in a chamber event and they may look into the event too.
Finally, talent should be shared. If they are known in the community for marketing expertise, for example, they shouldn’t be shocked when you ask for some insights and marketing tips.
Their talent may be as a connector or fundraiser. Those skills may be expected in a board position.
If you are recruiting someone for their skills, make sure they realize it. But be complimentary when doing it. Don’t make it sound like membership is predicated on that alone. You simply value their talents and want them to shine on the board.
#8 Teaching Chamber 101
All good boot camps (including your “maybe a secret” chamber board boot camp”) are clear about why people are there. Don’t make assumptions about what your board knows or doesn’t know. They may never have been involved in a chamber before even if they’ve spent decades in business.
In fact, it’s likely your board member is a long-time business professional but there are things about the workings of the chamber that they might not understand. Make sure they are clear on topics like
- strategic planning
- budgetary planning
- fiduciary oversight
- chamber mission and vision
- duties and distinctions of the board, ambassadors, committees, and chamber staff
If you aren’t sure of your own ability to educate on these topics, consider bringing in a board development person to lead your session or retreat.
#9 Know Your Role
As part of creating a highly-functioning board, you want to make sure you are very clear about the differences between your board’s role and your own. While the Chamber CEO is hired by and reports to the board, you shouldn’t be micromanaged by them. They should be concentrating on vision and mission. You should be deciding how your event food budget is spent.
Don’t be afraid to push back when they try to get too involved in the details.
#10 Work on the Group Dynamic
In any group, there are thinkers, doers, introverts, extroverts, teammates, individuals, influencers, and consensus builders and dozens of other titles. Identifying early what you have and what they bring is essential to understanding motivations and action drivers.
Figure out how the existing board reacts with one another. Is there someone who stirs the pot behind the scenes or someone who wants everyone to feel good about everything?
These types of personalities can drastically affect who does what and how it turns out. Working with a consultant can also help understand the dynamic and harness the group energy.
The chamber board can be a great help or a hindrance and it’s something the newbie chamber exec probably gives little thought to. Creating a chamber board bootcamp (even if it’s just in your mind) and setting up these expectations and tasks can help create a highly-functioning environment.
Do you have some advice for chamber of commerce professionals and their boards? Add your suggestions here.