Board member/employee interaction creates confusion all around: confusion about roles, confusion about who is in charge and confusion about whether the executive director is truly the boss.
For example, when a board member tells a staff member how to perform his job, the employee may very well assume that since “a board member is telling me to do this, he is speaking for the board.”
Executive Director Audrey Schremmer (Wamego, Kan.) seems to have hit on an effective way to prevent this problem, because the words “legal liability” clear up board member role confusion very quickly.
Schremmer (email@example.com) said she had some significant incidents along these lines when she first started as executive director. This was during a period when the organization had been without its executive for a period of time.
“Numerous critical staffing changes had to be made in order to address a budget deficit,” Schremmer said. “Fortunately, I only had one board member who overstepped his role and gave feedback to staff. The staff acted upon these instructions, assuming that board direction overrode my decisions.”
The organization’s attorney consulted with Schremmer in this case and provided guidance. “I had a one-on-one discussion with each board member to educate them on their personal legal liability if they acted solely without the approval of the full board,” she said.
After this discussion, the majority of the board requested the attorney draft a document for all board members to sign, which acknowledged this principle of unified board action, Schremmer said.
This was a somewhat dicey issue for the organization, Schremmer said, because it was important for board and staff members to feel comfortable working together on agency projects, fundraisers and consumer events. “We didn’t want to squelch communication, just guide it,” she said.
Schremmer first worked with the attorney and board on this issue, then moved on to guide the staff through it. “I held an all-staff meeting to present the same information to staff members while still assuring them we wanted collaboration and conversation between the board and employees,” she said. Employees just needed to be aware that they could put individual board members at legal risk by coming to them individually with problems, she said.
“This approach to the issue has served us well through the years,” Schremmer said.
Going forward, any time an unhappy employee sent a grievance letter to board members, they forwarded them to Phillips, most often without even reading them, she said. “Those words ‘legal liability’ resound with most everyone,” Schremmer said.