Is Your Organization Surviving or Thriving?

NOV 20, 2019

Why Many Boards May Be Preprogrammed to Simply Make Their Organizations Survive, Not Thrive

(Originally appeared in the November 20th, 2019 'Across the Board' publication, a Board Director, Board Advisor, C-Level, and Business Newsletter reaching 26,000+ exceptional business leaders in over 65 countries with articles focused on leadership, strategy, and governance topics - sign up here)

It is rare for an organization to pose a certain question throughout its leadership and employees - if they feel they and the company are surviving or thriving. It is quite a direct question, a binary assessment, with no ability to answer in an ambiguous way. It is simply one or the other. Some inherently know, without any hesitation, which category they personally associate their position and career with. It stands to reason that when more individuals in an organization answer surviving, the more likely it is that the overall company is in survival mode. When more individuals answer thriving, the more likely the overall company is to be successful and a fulfilling place to work and contribute.

Interestingly, when I pose the surviving or thriving question to Board Directors, the response is frequently bifurcated between a) how they view the Board and separately b) how they view the overall organization. Although there are some instances where a disjointed Board (surviving) can sit atop a successful organization (thriving), this is not the norm. In most instances, the Board is a microcosm of the entire organization's performance and culture - they typically go hand-in-hand. 

So, how can Boards create environments where they and their organizations thrive instead of merely surviving or succumbing? I offer an interesting observation along with a science-backed answer that is not only gripping, but also quite simple.

Professional Observation 

A telling observation from the dozens of Boards and Board Members I consult and coach on a yearly basis shows the following:

  • Boards and Board Members who focus 100%, or a majority of their efforts, on solely governance more so fit into the survive category.
  • Boards and Board Members who focus roughly 50% of their efforts on strategy and 50% on governance (or a healthy balance of the two) seem to thrive.

Many Boards have set the expectation that only governance is expected of their Board Members - essentially preprogramming the Board to operate in solely survival mode. This realization has led me down the path in my Board Evaluation consulting engagements to dig further into the weekly, monthly, and yearly actions of Boards and Board Members to understand exactly where they spend their time and what specifically are the outcomes. When drilling down into a Board's balance of strategic areas of involvement, it is quite easy to see the value-add to the organization and the welcomed support of the CEO (or Executive Director for nonprofits). To better understand an ideal viewpoint of a Board's strategic involvement, see my helpful article 'Why Do Boards Continue To Struggle With Strategy?' - I like to think that strategy comes first, governance follows - after all, as a leader you are governing the 'how,' which is the strategy.

The Science

In the 2017 European Psychologist article referencing the study entitled 'Human Thriving - A Conceptual Debate and Literature Review,' Dr. Daniel J. Brown's research focuses on understanding thriving in human beings. The study outlines the 'shopping list' supporting Dr. Brown's simple definition. To thrive doesn't require all the components, but the study suggests a combination of some from each of the following two categories help:

A) Is (individual, employee, leader, Board Member):

  • Optimistic
  • Motivated
  • Proactive
  • Someone who enjoys learning
  • Flexible
  • Adaptable
  • Socially competent
  • Believes in self / has self esteem
  • Spiritual or religious

B) Has (individual, employee, leader, Board Member):

  • Opportunity
  • Employer, family, or other support
  • Challenges and difficulties are at a manageable level
  • Environment is calm
  • Is given a high degree of autonomy
  • Is trusted as competent

Research has established that although thriving is similar to resilience, prospering, and growth, it does indeed stand alone. As it turns out, societal influences may have preprogrammed us to automatically lean towards surviving and not thriving. In Dr. Marina Kostina's June 12th, 2019 Thrive Global article, interviewee Melissa Tittl states, "The US is still operating in a survival-based society. We are not the poorest country, but our morals are based on survival, not thriving." This interview is quite interesting in that it mentions factors and expectations in our everyday lives that have influenced how we operate and make decisions, much of which is solely survival-based. Definitely worth a read for an insightful viewpoint.

The concept of thriving is quite powerful to a Board of Directors when applied not only to the organization, but directly to the Board, too. An evaluation of these components should be on the list of important factors in determining the efficiency and effectiveness of the Boards, and organizations, we serve.

Is your Board and organization surviving or thriving?

Reach out directly to Mark A. Pfister to discuss the many facets of lowering risk within your Board with his Board Consulting offerings and International Speaking Tour topics.