Sometimes I get to coach 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 its tracks. The answers provide critical guidance for risk management, strategic planning, and writing governance policies.
Have a clear idea of what could kill your organization. This 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 reduces the severity of a devastating crisis on your staff, your programs, and your mission.
When groups do strategic planning, they often use the SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis tool. SWOT analysis can be effective, but I think groups tend to underestimate or gloss over the reality of threats. Interpreting threats to mean operational challenges is fine, but don’t overlook those things that threaten the existence of the organization itself.
Nothing will help your board rethink its governance policies faster than the question, “What could kill this organization if it happened?” The answers help focus on what matters 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?
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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.”