3 Reasons to Ask: “What Could Kill This Organization?”

I occasionally have the pleasure of coaching organizations forming boards for the first time. One of the first things I have them do is answer the question, “What could kill this organization if it happened?” It’s a startling question, as those at the table are usually thinking about more positive things: their hopes for the community, the people who will benefit, the good that may come of their efforts. But it’s a useful question to ask at the outset. I’m not talking about those routine annoyances that crop up; I mean those few events or circumstances that may stop the organization in it’s tracks.   The answers provide critical guidance for risk management, strategic planning, and writing governance policies.

Risk Management

Having a clear idea of what could kill your organization gives your board a chance take preventative measures and put contingency plans in place. Is it something you can be insured against? Who needs to know in the event of a crisis? How will the board communicate with its stakeholders? Having contingency plans in place can greatly reduce the severity of a devastating crisis on your staff, your programs, and your mission.

Strategic Planning

When groups do strategic planning, they often use the SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis tool. SWOT analysis is effective, but I think groups tend to underestimate or gloss over the reality of threats. Interpreting threats to mean operational obstacles or challenges is fine, but not at the expense of recognizing those things that threaten the existence of the organization itself.

Governance Policies

Nothing will help your board design or refine its governance policies faster than asking the question, “What could kill this organization if it happened?” The answers help the board focus on critical issues when setting executive limitations and board process policies. When a central role of the board is to determine what is unacceptable in achieving the ends or intended outcomes of the organization, asking this question first helps the board to avoid the trivial.

10-Minute Board Discussion

What could kill this organization if it happened?


Image courtesy of iStockphoto.com/TommL

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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