“New Day” Thinking for Conflict Resolution
Even the most high-functioning boards must deal with conflict at some point. In fact, knowing how to deal with conflict, or conflict resolution, is one of the five Cs — along with composition, clarity, consciousness, and cohesiveness — of an effective association board. In this context, conflict resolution means respecting dissent and individual opinions and working through strain and conflict. The key is how to manage it, learn from it, and move forward as a stronger organization. This is exactly what one association, the Healthcare Business Management Association (HBMA), did. They even gave it a name — the “new day mentality.”
The New Day Mentality
The seeds of discord on any given board can be complex and varied. For HBMA, the conflict the board experienced not only hurt the association operationally by impeding progress against basics such as financial targets and volunteer engagement, but it also negatively impacted the association’s focus on its mission. Things needed to change. That much was clear to both volunteer and staff leadership. It also became clear that the association, to move forward, had to be willing to work through a resolution process, and once that occurred, to not look backward, said David Schmahl, Chief Executive, Healthcare + Scientific Industry Practice at SmithBucklin. That is the essence of the new day mentality.
“The new day mentality was used by leadership as a sort of rallying cry or reference phrase,” explained Schmahl, who worked extensively with the board and helped synthesize their ambitions into the new day concept. A new day means a fresh start, and that’s exactly what HBMA needed.
Identifying the Problems
HBMA’s volunteer leadership committed to working with HBMA’s Executive Director Andre Williams and Schmahl to put in place a framework in which to move forward. It started with identifying the specific problems that were hampering progress. Toward this end, Williams sent a questionnaire to all board members seeking to ascertain their key issues and concerns. In addition to the questionnaire, one-to-one conversations took place to ensure that as many voices as possible were heard. In addition, town hall style conference calls were scheduled with HBMA general membership to invite input and communicate that leadership was preparing for change. The board then met to discuss the concerns and address each of them, one by one, as a group. This was a critical part of getting everyone aligned on the issues that needed attention. While some of the concerns were easily remedied, others required more complicated course corrections.
One of the problems that surfaced revolved around communication between board members, especially communication conducted via email. There was significant energy being wasted on negative, unproductive email conversations, so the board agreed on protocols for email etiquette to foster professional and productive communications. The same general principles were also adopted for board calls to keep extracurricular conversations to a minimum. “Professional communication leads to professional behavior and culture,” said Williams.
The process also uncovered a need to update policies or establish new ones. One of the new policies addressed confidentiality, to ensure the board was protecting sensitive information.
But most importantly, perhaps, the board had to embark on an effort to educate all board members on the principles of good governance. “Often you think, ‘Well, we're all business leaders so we don't need that level of training for nonprofit board governance,’ but that’s not always the case,” said Williams.
Now, the board is more mission-focused and meetings are more productive, which has resulted in more energy being spent on moving the association forward. “It’s about focusing on the work of the organization. If everyone has a common goal and the focus is on the right place, then everything else fades into the background,” explained Michelle Durner, who just finished her one-year term as HBMA board president in December. She joined the board in 2014, just as the association was implementing its new day approach.
Today, HBMA leadership consciously makes time to continually improve its governance culture. For example, it recently agreed on the need to develop an enduring board culture agreement. This agreement lays out how the board is going to operate, what its values are, and how members will treat one another. “It's something that will guide us, particularly in times of conflict, so when conflict occurs, there will be agreed-upon ground rules on how we handle things as a board,” said Durner.
While the agreement is currently in the works, it will formalize principles that the board has been operating under since the new day began, such as respecting dissent and differences of opinion, yet ultimately speaking with one voice. “We want to make it so that the new day mentality is engrained in our culture,” said Durner.
The board is also embarking on formal governance and leadership training for board members, particularly new members. Starting in January, Durner will facilitate a session regarding these topics before each board call and meeting.
Of course, HBMA’s new day mentality has also delivered benefits that go way beyond just conflict resolution. It also helped the board refocus on the mission of the organization and, as a result, many new initiatives have emerged. One is a new accreditation program, which the association is looking to launch in 2018. Through this program, companies in the industry could become accredited organizations by meeting established industry standards.
The board has also become much more transparent, communicating frequently with HBMA’s general membership on the principles and goals of the board through monthly newsletters, town halls, and other communication channels. In addition, the board created a Data Science Committee, which is tasked with surveying members on their wants, needs, and behaviors so that the association can better serve them. This has all culminated in membership growth. That, in turn, has led to the association’s enhanced financial picture, said Williams. In addition, added Williams, the organization rebranded itself from the Healthcare Billing and Management Association to the Healthcare Business Management Association.
“Every day is a new day, every day is an opportunity,” said Durner. “We don't look back and we're ready to take the next step. I don’t know where HBMA would be without our new day mentality.”
JANUARY 2018 EDITION
| Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for almost 70 years.