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What's Board Governance Got to Do with Innovation? | Part 2

The Relationship between Innovation, Board Leadership, and Strategy

"Strategy and innovation are inseparable. One guides our choices; the other defines our future." ~ Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation

After further reflection on my tenure serving on various boards throughout my career, I feel compelled to dive deeper into this dynamic and ever-evolving relationship between board governance and innovation and yet add another critical ingredient to the mix: Strategic planning. Non-profit and philanthropic organizations often emphasize the role of strategic planning in preparing for the organization's future. However, strategic planning is not merely about charting a course for the future; it's about foreseeing the changes and challenges that the future holds and preparing an organization to face them head-on. At the heart of effective strategic planning and implementation lies innovation. As the central decision-making body, board governance ensures that strategic planning is dynamic, flexible, and innovative. Only then can non-profit organizations and philanthropic bodies adapt to the fast-paced societal shifts and evolving community needs. The symbiotic relationship between board leadership, innovation, and strategic planning molds the path for achieving meaningful impact. Strategic planning, at its best, merges foresight with adaptability. Board governance stands at the helm of this confluence, ensuring that while the organization remains rooted in its mission, it evolves with the times. For philanthropic and non-profit entities to thrive amidst uncertainty, innovation must be integral to their strategic planning process. Here's more food for thought:

  1. Strategic Innovation: The process of strategic planning is no longer linear. It involves a cyclic non-linear approach where boards continually evaluate the goals set, the strategies employed, and the outcomes achieved. Integrating innovation means boards can adapt strategies based on real-time feedback, technological advancements, or societal shifts. True innovation is not merely about adopting new methods but about discerning which strategies align with the organization's mission and anticipating changes. This cyclic evaluation keeps organizations not just relevant but groundbreaking in their fields.

  2. Inclusive Visioning: I can't emphasize this enough. The richness of strategy lies in its diversity. While it's more intensive and demands more, Boards should encourage participatory strategic planning sessions that involve not just board members but also stakeholders, community leaders, and beneficiaries. Their insights breathe life into strategic planning, providing holistic, ground-up strategies that address organizational and community needs.

  3. Capacity Building: While vision is foundational, the capacity to execute that vision is crucial. Boards must ensure they and the executive leadership have the training and resources necessary for innovative strategy execution. This capacity involves ongoing board development, external expert consultations, and cross-sectoral collaborations. Innovation thrives in collaborative ecosystem environments. Boards should seek partnerships and collaborations with non-profits, private entities, or research institutions. Such alliances can infuse new perspectives, share resources, and amplify the reach and impact of strategic initiatives.

  4. Alignment with Mission: As boards navigate the waters of innovation, it's essential to ensure that new strategies stay consistent with the organization's core mission. Regular revisits and reflections on the mission statement can anchor innovative efforts and provide clarity.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How frequently does our board revisit our strategic plan to integrate innovative approaches?

  • How does our current strategic plan align with our mission, and where does it allow for innovative growth?

  • How are we cultivating an ecosystem that fosters collaboration and shared innovation?

Interactive Exercises:

  1. Future Mapping: Conduct a session where board members, using a digital collaboration tool, map out potential future scenarios (both positive and challenging) that might impact the organization. Based on these scenarios, draft possible strategic responses.

  2. Mission Alignment Workshop: Engage board members in a workshop where they map out every strategic initiative to the organization's mission statement. Identify areas of solid alignment and potential deviations. This visual mapping can clarify where innovation aligns with the core mission.

  3. Collaboration Brainstorming: Dedicate a session to identify potential collaborative partners in related sectors. Explore what each partner can bring to the table and prototype potential joint projects or initiatives that someone could pilot.

The board and staff should intentionally decide the role of innovation in strategic planning and its implementation. Boards that understand this relationship harness its potential, and continually adapt are the ones that lead organizations to sustainable, impactful futures. Marrying innovation with strategic planning, under the oversight of proactive board governance, creates a recipe for sustainable impact. Boards that foster this integration ensure their organizations remain both grounded and groundbreaking.


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