||Board of Trustees:
Evaluation and Appreciation
James B. Webber
and Curt Lindberg
"Complexity is about reframing
our understanding of many systems by using a metaphor associated with life and living
systems rather than machines or mechanical systems." (Edgeware A Complexity Science Primer)
trustee evaluation schemes were designed for the machine age, for stable worlds
characterized by predictable futures, planning as prescriptive intent, being in control
and short term fiduciary responsibility. The oversight of conformance and performance is a
necessary role, but one that is insufficient in a world of unpredictable change.
In a world where strategy
becomes emergent, where being somewhat out of control is desirable and where leadership is
asked to absorb and amplify uncertainty rather than protect the institution from it, the
board, along with the rest of the organization, must assume the additional role of
adapting and learning. The three approaches outlined in this section are designed to help
with this and can be used with the board and any other leadership group within the
organization. The approaches are:
Evaluation: Using the Complexity Lens
criteria drawn from Edgeware materials are used to assess and appreciate the role of the
board in creating conditions of adaptability and learning among board members and within
the institution and its leadership.
|Potential context for use:
- when there is a sense that change is overwhelming
- when there are complaints of lack of
responsiveness and lack of nimbleness
- when the Conforming and Performing role of the
board seems to be in good shape but there is a serious, intuitive concern for long term
- when the CEO is trying to introduce a complexity
perspective into the leadership approach of the organization and needs the support,
understanding and wisdom of the trustees to do so
- when board members need a step by step approach
to exploring complexity (in spite of our reservations about explicit tools)
Board evaluation systems under conditions of both stability and change
should involve the search for both efficiency and adaptability.
Search for Efficiency
Search for Adaptability
Performing Board Role
||Adapting and Evolving
|Short Term Fiduciary
||Long Term Fiduciary Responsibility
|An orderly world. Protect from,
and dampen uncertainty and change.
||A disorderly world. Absorb and
learn from uncertainty and change.
- Planning Oversight
- Quality Oversight
- Community Oversight
- Financial Oversight
- Management Oversight
- Board Effectiveness
- Individual Assessment
Topics:(From: Edgeware: Complexity Resources for Health Care Leaders)
Complexity Science Primer
"[An invitation] to examine the unpredictable, disorderly and unstable aspects
Nine, emerging, Connected Organizational &
-The Lens of Complexity
-Good Enough Vision
-Lead From the Edge
-Tune to the Edge
-Uncover Paradox and Tension
-Multiple Actions, Let Directions Emerge
-Listen to the Shadow System
-Grow Complex Systems Through Chunking
-Mix Cooperation and Competition
Aides for Complexity
Tales of Complexity
Helping Others Learn About Complexity
There are many
examples of health care organizations
that did a fine job in column "A" but missed the boat in column "B."
They performed but did not evolve.
1. Complexity criteria (see some
sample criteria in next sections) are first identified, reviewed and discussed for
understanding, using the resources in Edgeware.
2. The board then rates the
relevance of the criteria to the organizations situation using a simple scale, say,
from 1) low to 3) high.
3. Given highly relevant
criteria, how is the board and the institution doing? Use a simple scale, say, from 1) low
to 10) high. Evaluate and discuss the extent the organization or board meets each relevant
4. Explore what actions are
suggested by the results of the evaluation? How can the board or the organization act more
like a living system and less like a machine? In what ways can the can the
organizations leadership create conditions that will promote organizational
learning, adaptability and responsiveness?.
process helps boards spend time discussing long term viability rather than concentrating
on shorter term operating and conformance matters. Board members make their wisdom
explicit by searching for and testing complexity criteria, and by applying the relevant
criteria to the situation at hand.
A. In a retreat
setting, trustees, management and medical staff of a community hospital developed a set of
complexity criteria to provide a basis for evaluating management performance in an
uncertain future. The need for the complexity criteria arose when the CEO convinced board
members that adaptability of the organization was as important as current operating
efficiency. After a brief primer on complex adaptive systems using a chart similar to
"Both A and B" above and Staceys Agreement and Certainty Matrix,
participants were asked to evaluate the relevance of a set of complexity criteria. Small
groups were formed to evaluate which characteristics were most applicable to the
hospitals future governance using a scale of 1 (low) to 3 (high). The group work was
tallied, discussed and a consensus was reached by the full group. The results were a set
of institutional expectations for the board in creating conditions for greater
adaptability. A portion of the results are shown below.
leadership is aware of and tries to be one step ahead of emerging trends.
too far out-front
of experiments and learning
is a better term than experiments
incentives support adaptability?
reinforcement to walk on the edge.
thinking before strategic planning
balance between the two.
diversity of all kinds
all kinds. But no quotas.
connections of board members- breadth and depth of community connections
scorecard for the hospital, adding innovation, adaptability and personal development to
conventional financial performance and activity measures
of ambiguities, paradoxes and dilemmas at the top
||It is the
reality. Calls for wisdom.
B. The board of directors of a
state hospital association used this method to evaluate their effectiveness under
conditions of disruptive industry change. The project was initiated by the president of
the organization who felt the board was spending its time on minutia and missing the need
for industry restructuring and association redesign. In evaluating themselves against a
set of complexity criteria, they found that they were wasting their time on routine and
short term matters and were dodging their long term fiduciary responsibility for creating
the conditions for hospital and association change.
Specifically, the criteria used
were clustered into four groups similar to those in the Sample Criteria Section below and
an overall rating was given to the boards performance for each. The results were:
no time spent or consideration given to adaptability, emergence, learning, boundary
stretching. Too busy to do so.
assumptions challenged, no exploratory thinking, some consideration of market value
migrating away from hospitals
dealing with the state, yes. In terms of our membership, a lack of diversity on the board.
Political channels seem clogged.
created and maintained a diverse set of relationships, could use them in a more generative
(See also Edgeware,
especially Primer, Principles and Tales)
Overall: Healthcare organizations,
like all living systems, are viewed as complex adaptive systems, always in the process of
evolving, changing and becoming in an unpredictable world. In this view, the leader sees
the organization through the complexity lens and
living on the edge to stimulate complex learning and knowledge creation. Amplifies
fluctuations to see what can be learned. Focuses on contradictions and paradoxes as
signals of potential emergence to higher levels of performance.
Allows innovative fringe
activity and protects such activity from hidebound traditions, institutional memory and
bureaucratic relapse. Searches for the patterns that emerge from boundary stretching
Thinks in terms of learning,
evolving, adapting, resiliency, nimbleness, redundancies, building blocks, organizational
slack, the possibility of quantum leaps and individual variation that leads to perpetual
Views the future as always
unfolding and transitioning and never fixed in spite of pundits prognostications at
Thinks of long-term societal
legitimacy and ecological sustainability as a source of opportunity.
Values the notion of
co-evolution, the coordinated and interdependent evolution of two or more parties, when
partnering with others.
Ensures that open,
exploratory, conceptual discussions precedes any strategy making effort. Searches for
emergent strategies. Views planning as a discovery process not as pre-determined decision
Is sensitive to how data and
information are handled. Are assumptions challenged, and filters surfaced and questioned?
Sees management as creators, not just processors of information.
Encourages competing for share
of future, emergent opportunities (opportunity share) as well as performance in existing
markets (market share).
Ensures that the board as well
as the organization as a whole enjoys abundant, shared information.
Measures and monitors the rate
of development and the contribution of new service and product initiatives, those that
have been launched in the last 3-5 years.
Thinks in terms of a healthy
degree of diversity, anxiety and information flow when creative strategies are needed.
Spends time encouraging and
learning from multiple small experiments, searches for patterns in these endeavors, and
helps along those that are growing.
Is comfortable setting a few
minimum specifications to define a desired approach leaving everything else open to
Encourages examination of
contradictions in current practice and challenges to orthodoxy from which new directions
Uncovers and works with
differences in viewpoints rather than suppressing them.
control, understanding that it, not centralized control, leads to adaptability.
Ensures diversity on the board
and the leadership team by including different leadership styles, personality types,
learning styles and demographic backgrounds. Tolerates "loose cannons" and
unorthodox thinkers in the organization.
Prides oneself on, and
continues to develop the breadth, depth and diversity of its network of connections in
Ensures that the right people
come together for future oriented, generative relationships. Encourages such
relationships. Understands that opportunities arise from generative relationships.
Concerns self with the energy,
mood and spirit of the organization since human relationships are central to viability,
sustainability and health.
With lists, weighting and
evaluation, this aide is designed to appeal to concrete, rational thinkers. Many
CEOs and board members like this approach. However, members of governing bodies
often have substantial life experience and have been selected for their hard earned
wisdom. Such members may be affronted by linear evaluation schemes. If this is the case,
use the next aide which is much more artful and which emphasizes wisdom informed by
The authors have found no
references on board evaluation using a complexity lens.
||2. Board Evaluation: Using
Wisdom of board members is built
through the slow, and unconscious learning processes of rumination, osmosis and
contemplation. Wisdom as a group emerges from collective reflection, appreciation and
sensemaking. To the extent that the complexity way of thinking and seeing is inherent in
all living systems, wise board members already know it. The purpose of this aide is to
help make this understanding explicit and in doing so, to enhance the governance of
|Potential Context for Use:
- when there is little faith in the cause and
effect relationships between effective governance and lists of criteria in method 1
- when board members are sophisticated and value
the wisdom they bring to the table
- when the board has time to be reflective, to
ruminate, to let their intuition come forth, "to know better by thinking
slower." (Claxton 1997)
- when a more explicit evaluation would trigger
political battles or finger a specific board member
Gain general feel for the complexity lens
by discussing various sections of Edgeware especially Tales of Complexity.
- Then with complexity in mind apply reflectivity
- Then with complexity in mind apply collective
sensemaking. Sensemaking definition: The leader helps others in various settings make
retrospective sense of the situations in which they find themselves and through reflection
and progressive clarification create a unique sense of the reality they face. "What
is real is up for grabs." (adapted from Weick 1995). The leader as a sensemaker
-Uses Weick's principles of a
sensemaking meeting including: suspect old answers; encourage multiple interpretations;
target ambiguity not uncertainty reduction through information; understand that ambiguity
collects at the top: mobilize requisite variety at meetings; and beware of norms that
stress obedience and prevent embarrassment.
-Works on creating new meaning
though expressive techniques such as analogies, metaphors, imaging, signs, symbols, myths,
rituals, games and paradox.
-Uses verbs to capture the
action that lays down the path for sensemaking, "organizing" vs. organized,
"integrating" vs. integrated.
-Uses storytelling about joint
experiences to make sense of things.
Then with complexity in mind
apply appreciative inquiry principles. Focus on what is working rather than what is wrong.
See what it would take to amplify the positives and discuss what kind of future might be
constructed based about them (see Cooperrider).
Then with complexity in mind
apply the slow learning processes that builds unconscious intelligence, refreshes
intuition and informs wisdom. Learn complexity through osmosis. Boards are the trustees of
wisdom for the institution. "Wisdom is practical; it involves seeing through the
apparent issue to the real issue that underlies it; it is in touch with the simple truths
that animate almost everyone; it is good judgment in hard times. To have wisdom is to
possess a broad and well-developed repertoire of ways of knowing, and to deploy them
appropriately. Wise persons soak up experience of complex domains, and extract the subtle,
contingent pattern that are latent in it. Allowing oneself time to be wise is vital."
(adapted from Claxton 1997, Chapter 12) Slow knowing, the building of unconscious
intelligence though reflection, contemplation, and the exercise of curiosity is crowded
out in popular management culture such as worshiped in the magazine, Fast Company.
Managers, according to Claxton, typically look for solutions rather than examining
questions, treat perception as unproblematic, base action on conscious understanding,
value explanation over observation, like plans that are reasonable rather than intuitive,
seek clarity rather than values confusion, and operate with a sense of impatience. Boards
must counteract these tendencies and take time to cultivate a feel for complexity through
slow learning and reflection.
Wisdom building is not for the faint of
Claxton, Guy (1997). Hare
Brain Tortoise Mind, Why Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, London, Fourth
Cooperrider, DE. L. and
Srivasta, S. (1987). "Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life" in Woodman
and Passmore (eds.) Research on Organizational Change and Development, Vol. 1, JAI
Weick, Karl (1995). Sensemaking
in Organizations, Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.
||3. Celebrating Our CASness
Basic Idea: The board is a CAS nested within
the institution as a complex adaptive system. Lets recognize and enhance it. Living
under conditions of complexity is a normal fact of life. Most of us have learned how to
hedge our bets as we face an uncertain future.
|Potential Context for Use:
- when the board has learned enough about
complexity to be able to recognize the reality that the board, the institution and the
community are all complex systems
- when it is inappropriate to emphasize the
distinction between CAS and normal management thinking
- when searching for new ways of looking at things
Try some of the following:
Relating experiences to the
Nine, emerging & Connected Principles in Edgeware. Review the general tenets of
complexity emphasizing the real life nature of the perspective. Ask how a city works. Who
is in overall charge? What role does comprehensive planning play in the future of a city?
Explore the Nine Principles
and some Complexity Aides, and invite participants to chose one or more that helps them
interpret a particular situation. Ask them to describe the interpreted experience in story
-For instance, examining the
Complexity Aide Generative Relationships might bring to mind a story about how an
idea for a new service emerged from a relationship and extended conversations with a group
of current clientele.
-Another example, talk about the
principle: Grow Complex Systems by Chunking. Review Hollands idea that a set
of building blocks can be adapted and recombined to build a great number of new concepts.
To illustrate this principle ask how many words there are in the English language(over
460,000 in Websters Third Edition). Then point out that these words are all based on
simple building blocks, the 24 letters in the alphabet. Now apply the principle to the
health care setting, think of the basic building blocks of a hospital, of a health care
system. Think in terms of physician specialties or core competencies and relate these
building blocks to the vast array of diseases treated.
-Think of recent examples of
corporations that failed to adapt to changing markets such as Kodak, IBM in 1991, Digital,
Montgomery Ward, General Motors and Levi-Strauss. Did their leaders value "predict
and control towards a predetermined outcome" as the way to run a company? Were they
trapped by a management mindset that valued efficiency over adaptability? Why did they
miss the fundamental shifts in their markets?
effect" suggests that a small change in a non-linear system can make a large impact.
In fact there are consulting firms that specialize in "minimalist
interventions." Take the beginning of World War I as an example. The assassination of
Archduke Franz-Ferdinand by a young Serbian student was the triggering event. What other
examples of small changes having huge impacts come to mind? What small changes in
healthcare regulations have affected the industry in a major way? Think about the various
rises and falls of HCA and Columbia/HCA.
All of these approaches help board members
become comfortable with the complexity lens. They come to recognize what they have always
known that linearity - direct cause and effect - is relatively rare in human affairs.
Stacey, Ralph (1996). Strategic
Management and Organizational Dynamics, Second Edition, London, Pitman Publishing.
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