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Goal Power: Elevate Board Performance by Setting R.E.A.L. Goals

Posted by Grace Lee on Aug 7, 2012 10:00:00 PM


Has your board identified specific goals to accomplish this school year? This is your chance to get R.E.A.L.!

The fact is, your school and your board is where it is today because of goals and decisions made years ago.  How much better would your school be five years from now if the board adopted specific goals today that would produce more effective results? The biggest advantage of effective goal-setting is being able to visualize and plan actions to achieve desirable results, giving you ownership of your potential. Other benefits include:


Well-structured goals enable you to set priorities, focus on the big picture, and limit the distractions that inevitably arise. Rowing is an Olympic sport that is often underrated in its difficulty. Imagine a team of rowersOlympic Rowing where each is pulling in different directions and at independent times.  Nothing but chaos! Setting goals for each and every board member to achieve elevates the level of focus and commitment. When every one is working for the same goals and there is mutual accountability for performance, the board will reach a new level of unity and energy. If you will write out your goals and track the progress in a visible manner, then the focus of your board will shift from the obstacles to the steps required for success.


The number two reason for dissension on the school board and in the school community is conflicting expectations. Establishing explicit goals and implementing a professional process for accountability reduces the risk of a breakdown in communication. Each person knows what is expected of them and how they can contribute to the larger whole. Establishing clear expectations for individual goals helps alleviate the conflict that can arise when some are less committed than others in how they use their time, energy, and resources. 


Our minds are wired to pursue what we can tangibly envision.  Identifying goals for the board keeps the entire group energized and motivated, especially if you provide visually feedback regarding performance to date and celebrate milestones along the way. The goal setting process should also make clear WHY the achievement of each goal is important and contributes value.


Having a specific goal produces the best results. What do you really want from your board members? What can they contribute that will add lasting value? 

What distinguishes a well-defined goal?


Goals that are unrealistic usually produce negative unintended consequences. Pushing one to stretch can be healthy, but be careful about posing something that is genuinely unattainable. The purpose of this process is to give direction, not to impress others with the degree of difficulty (save that for the divers and gymnasts). I'm all for big, hairy, adacious goals (BHAG's as Collins calls them in Good to Great), but add a dose of reality as you establish the scope of your goals.  Most of your board members already have a full-time job.  


Will achieving this goal create a result that enhances the mission of the board and school? The benefit of fulfillment should generate a certain amount of emotional satisfaction, strengthening the intrinsic motivation of each participant.  If you get more joy from announcing your goal than you do from achieving it, then you've missed the mark.


This is where many fail the R.E.A.L.ity test. They articulate goals that sound sophisticated, but it's too vague to determine when it has been accomplished.  A measurable goal is the key! Ideally, it can be stated such that the answer to whether the goal has been achieved is a definitive "Yes" or "No" with little or no gray area for interpretation.  Public visibility and accountability is what moves a wish to a bonafide goal.


The best goal is one that has a clearly defined timeframe and scope. One secret to goal attaintment is to ask your board members to record when and where they intended to fulfill each one.  This will dramatically improve the speed and percentage of completeness. Research has clearly demonstrated that "when people took the time to visualize exactly when and where they would do what they needed to do, they met their goals. People took their vitamins more regularly, college students exercised more, and knee replacement patients did their physical therapy more diligently (and walked sooner as a result)." ("Make Goals Not Resolutions", Chip and Dan Heath in FastCompany Magazine)

Example goals for each member of the school board to achieve this year:

  • Take an tour of the school 
  • Take a tour of another comparable school 
  • Sign the Board's Conflict of Interest Statement 
  • Sign the Board's Statement of Conduct 
  • Give to the Annual Fund 
  • Give to the capital campaign 
  • Recruit one high-qualified trustee for Board consideration 
  • Cultivate relationships with three major donors 
  • Conduct a presentation about the school at a community event 
  • Read a book assigned by the Board for professional development 
  • Attend a conference related to the organization 
  • Build relationship with the chief administrator in an informal setting at least once during the year
  • Build relationships with every other trustee in an informal setting at least once during the year


What R.E.A.L. goals would you add to this list for school boards?  Your input and comments will help us build an even better sample list for boards to consider.

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