How Health Care Organizations Can Make Their Boards More Effective

Board directors, at health care agencies and throughout other industries, believe boards can operate at a higher level. Here’s what they suggested.

Health care boards can’t operate in 2023 the way they did in 1993, 2019, or even 2022. The world moves too quickly, and health care organizations that stay in place will fall behind.

In OnBoard’s 2023 Board Effectiveness Survey, boards across several industries shared their thoughts on how they could operate more efficiently and effectively. The results? Too many boards aren’t as effective as they should be, for a variety of reasons. We’ll cover the problems, and potential solutions.

What’s Going Wrong?

Fortunately, the problems health care boards face are easy to identify, and solutions exist. The first step is identifying those problems. 

Survey respondents listed the following pitfalls among boards where they sit:

  • Lack of diversity on boards: A whopping 95% of respondents said a lack of diversity and new ideas was the main driver of an ineffective board environment. Nearly three-fourths (73%) said their boards struggle with collaboration and engagement, while 69% said their boards need more turnover.
  • Lack of focus on mission: Another decisive majority — 84% — claimed their boards lack a clear mission or measurable objectives. Seventy-nine percent said their boards needed more governance maturity, and 77% cited poor planning and preparation for meetings as top concerns.
  • Outdated technology: Eighty-three percent were frustrated about their inability to access board resources from a single, centralized location. Meanwhile, three-fourths said board members and staff rely too much on email as a primary communication method, and 56% of respondents lamented their boards’ lack of digital security and limited use of technology.

What’s Going Well?

It’s not all doom-and-gloom for boards. Compared to a similar survey in 2022, 62% of respondents said their boards were more collaborative than they were 12 months ago, and 71% said their boards were more effective. The same number (71%) expressed greater confidence in their board security.

What else are boards doing well? Survey respondents cited:

  • Board continuity (76%): This, of course, would conflict with concerns about board diversity and lack of board turnover, but plenty of respondents said board continuity is essential to maintaining effective board operations.
  • Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues (58%): A majority of respondents were satisfied with their boards’ management of ESG issues as they relate to sustainability and ethics.
  • Board recruitment (58%): Most respondents also believe their boards are effective at recruiting new members. Another 52% rated their boards as strong at ensuring a diverse board.

Solutions to the Problems

So, what makes a board effective? Survey respondents cited 3 main drivers:

  1. Having a more engaged board
  2. Having a better prepared board
  3. Increasing use of board management software

As for the 3 main problems cited above, respondents offered solutions to each:

  1. Lack of diversity on boards: In addition to bringing on board members with diverse ages, genders, and backgrounds, board members suggested seeking directors with expanded skill sets and experience; nurturing current board members’ development and maturity; replacing disengaged members and backfill turnover; and gaining modern perspectives and overcoming rigid mindsets.
  2. Lack of focus on mission: While ensuring a clearer focus on mission and strategy would be an obvious approach, respondents also requested that boards remove red tape/bureaucracy; clarify roles and responsibilities; build more accountability and greater efficiencies; track key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives; and ensure greater consistency and repeatable processes.
  3. Outdated technology: Survey respondents wished their boards would maximize investment in existing board management technologies; improve organization of information; improve scheduling and minutes approval processes; automate processes and avoid use of paper, phone, and email; and build confidence in security.

The Bottom Line on Health Care Board Effectiveness

Health care board members want change in how they operate. Fortunately, solutions are available and easily reachable. As technology continues to evolve, artificial intelligence (AI) will likely be a focal point in the future. How will health care organizations utilize it to their advantage? How should they? 

As the survey results indicate, technological advances will continue to be a key driver on how health care boards function. As always, the good ones will evolve and remain effective for their organizations, patients, and partners.

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