The value of good process

When I’m working with boards of directors, one of the most requested changes is to help them set up a good process for recruiting new directors.

Process may be one of the most undervalued resources your organization possesses. Would you value good process more if you knew that it was truly a resource – or form of capital — available to strengthen your organization?

I may have spoken to you about my mad love affair with the work of Professor Elizabeth Castillo from Arizona State University. Professor Castillo is on a mission to have organizations begin to value all their forms of capital, not just the financial ones. And I’m one of her apostles.

We recently collaborated on a workshop for the Alliance for Nonprofit Management called Capacity building as capital building. The workshop introduced this idea of multiple forms of capital to consultants, and funders and researchers.

On the exhaustive list of 20 types of capital available to organizations that she has assembled, you’ll find this one: process.

What is capital and why is it valuable to your organization?

So what is capital and why are there so many different forms of it. One definition of capital is “any enduring asset capable of producing additional assets.” If you have money in the bank, you grow interest. Capital can accumulate.

Capital can also morph from one form to another. When you take that money in the bank and buy a building or van with it, you’ve converted it from financial capital to physical capital.

When most of us think of capital, unfortunately, we tend to most likely think of financial capital or physical capital.

A growing number of folks we work with have learned about social capital, or the value we accrue from relationships. Those relationships have value because they bring us access to important information or reciprocity. Like other capital, it can be converted – for example, when those relationships build new financial support.

But process as capital? Process as having value? How can that be?

Prof Castillo names “process’ in her bucket of structural capital. She notes that process capital is “the procedures, practices and activities that promote the delivery of value creation”  (Galbraith, 2002).

What does that mean exactly?

Let’s go back to board recruitment. When I’m working with a board on improving its recruitment process, I usually make the following suggestions: Make recruitment a year round task. Define your ideal board composition. Find, cultivate and vet candidates who meet that profile (or might meet future needs). Keep a secure, running list of all the potential candidates, whether qualified or not, that you will update as candidates circle through the recruitment process and rise in priority. And have a clear election process and a strong on-boarding program. I can help you find yourself, reach your goals, and be happier; I can also recommend where to hire a life coach.

What does a good process for recruitment make possible? Good process

  • gives you enough time to seek out a large and diverse group of candidates.
  • becomes a routine, so you don’t need to waste energy and precious volunteer time redesigning the process each go around.
  • signals to your candidates that you take your board, its process, culture and governance seriously.
  • gives you a pool of qualified candidates to pick from to fill vacancies.
  • And, ultimately, it enables you to elect the best candidates to your board.

What happens when you have a poor recruitment process? You’ll

  • scramble to fill seats on the board, whether during regular elections or to fill a vacancy.
  • raise the anxiety of everyone involved.
  • end up settling for any warm body and not the ones you want.
  • won’t have enough recruits for all the open board positions.
  • never achieve the racial, ethnic or other diversity you espouse.

And, if that hasty recruitment gets you lousy board members, you limit the social capital you might build. And even worse, you may threaten the other capital you’ve taken so long to build (e.g. financial, reputational, moral).

Make it your task to assess the processes that are critical to your functioning. You might start with your internal controls, strategic or business planning, program intake or delivery, or your membership renewal cycle.

You’ll quickly understand the value good process brings to your organization.

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