Board decision processes: the problem.

Author:Lane, Joe
Position:Part one of a three-part series

Part one of a three-part series

More complex decisions, system diversity and higher stakes require effective board decision processes. In the first article of a series, the problems associated with ineffective board decision processes are examined. Additional articles will address effective processes and rural electric examples of effective board decision-making processes.

Why boards need to think about decision processes

Rural electric boards are facing tougher decisions today than they ever had to face in the past. Why are the decisions tougher?

For one thing, issues are more complex today. The best solutions are often not the most obvious ones. Rather than line extension policies, for example, the issue is more likely to be retention of territory.

For another thing, system missions are more diverse today, and a solution that works for one system may be anathema to another. Economic development, sorely needed in many rural communities, may be the source of many of the problems that the rapidly growing suburban system is struggling to manage.

Finally, the stakes are higher. Rural electrics exist because, historically, no one else wanted to serve their territories. Today, many of these same service territories are looking a lot more appealing to potential competitors.

These new types of issues, often involving competition and politics, have no simple, straightforward, "correct" solutions. Rural electric boards can best address them by gathering information and considering alternatives. In order to be better solution finders, boards need effective ways of arriving at decisions - effective decision processes.

Without effective decision processes, directors who "shoot from the hip" will make serious mistakes. Boards that jump to conclusions will make many more bad decisions than good. The first solution may no longer be the best solution.

What can happen in the boardroom

Let's look at what can happen when directors address issues in ineffective ways. Director A, for example, suggests that the board take a certain action. He or she speaks persuasively in favor of that action. Several other directors seem to be in agreement. Then Director B asks a question, or perhaps raises an objection.

In an ideal board room, directors may stay calm and listen to each other. Through open discussion, board members need to exchange concerns about the idea. They may discover that their differences are much smaller than their areas of overall agreement. The...

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