© 2010 by Lance Decker
It's called a commission, a council, the executive committee, the board of supervisors,
board of trustees, governors, directors, or just… the "board." It could be a public, private
or nonprofit outfit. It's the policymaking group representing the constituents and overseeing
They've had the wisdom to hire you as their agent implementing their collective direction.
You're called the executive director, the president, the CEO, the superintendent, the
general manager, or just… the manager. You work for the board and are required to meet
their individual and collective expectations. Congratulations on making it to the top.
Welcome to ambiguity!
Working for just one boss is hard, but satisfying the expectations of a board of seven,
nine, twenty-six very different, independent-minded, and highly motivated individuals
can be a nightmare. So, how do successful top managers know and meet the expectations
of a committee? They ask them.
Now, don't be surprised if you get blank stares the first time you ask the question,
"What do you expect of me?" This approach may be new to your board, so here are ten
tips to help you extract and use this information for everyone's benefit.
1 - Conduct basic research. From this data create a list of what you believe your board
expects of your position. (Note, I said "your position"…not you. Only learning the board's
feelings about the position should you start applying that information to you, as an
individual.) Sit with each board member and ask him or her to add items to your list. Have
them rate the importance of each item, and assign comparative value to establish priorities.
2 - Use the data to determine trends. Do all board members value "X"? Is "Y" frequently
at the bottom of the list? Is there a split over a specific characteristic? Does the
odd-man-out just want to be contrary, or is there a substantive difference in that person's
3 - Your research may uncover disagreements within the board. Decide whether you want to
handle the subsequent discussion yourself, or whether you need to call someone like me.
(That's what I do for a living.) If you do it yourself start with, "I found some of you
feel strongly about "A", but others believe "A" is the wrong approach. What might be
causing this apparent divergence?" Seek clarification.
4 - Determine which two or three characteristics of your job are consistently ranked the
highest and develop annual objectives for each. Be specific. Make them measurable, and
include them in your annual performance plan. The board should see these objectives as
supporting their expectations of you.
5 - As you discuss your performance with the board, challenge them identify other expectations
that might be in their collective minds. Stated or unstated, the Board will hold you
accountable, so document their expectations. Ask for examples. "How would I know if I
succeeded in meeting that expectation?"
6 - Expectations, like communication, are two-way. While your board has expectations of
you, you also have expectations of your board. Share your expectations of them…with them.
Be respectful but don't be shy. Encourage discussion and negotiation.
7 - Use your annual performance appraisal process as a scorecard to document how well the
expectations are being met… both for you and for the board.
8 - Periodically ask, "So, how are we doing?" Go through each expectation, one-at-a time,
and rate performance. If something can't be achieved, negotiate an appropriate change to
the objective, but keep the original as baseline information throughout the period.
9 - As new board members are added and current members leave, keep communication
up-to-date and flowing. Help your new members define their expectations. Establish a
solid foundation for communications right from the start.
10 - During the annual performance evaluation include expectations as a discrete topic.
Use this time to negotiate new or revised expectations. Again, do them in writing.
Document the process and don't forget… you have expectations of the board, too.
If you're a top-level manager you probably work for a committee. It's difficult to meet
all their expectations all of the time, but by developing a limited number of clear,
highvalue, and strongly shared expectations your job becomes just a bit easier.
Lance Decker is a business planner whose practice focuses on local governments, community
dispute resolution and conflict management. In this capacity Lance helps managers,
policy-makers and their constituents find practical pathways into the future. A frequent
lecturer and conference speaker, Lance has several publications to his credit and teaches
college courses in strategic planning, public involvement and conflict management.