There is, of course, logic to this assumption. By requiring prior service, you provide an opportunity for the volunteer to learn how the system works and what it takes to be an effective board member. You also get a chance to evaluate their effectiveness as a board member; it’s a “minor league” of sorts.

That level of service may be only one “rung” on your volunteer ladder. There might be other volunteering hoops to jump through before you can even get on the committee (volunteer at a meeting, write an article, etc.). Maybe you then need to be made chair of that committee before you can advance to higher levels. Some of this will be written in formal rules, but a lot of it can be informal. And in general, it all makes sense. The problem is, your volunteer ladder may be having unintended consequences on your Board culture.

1. Its emphasis on experience ends up overvaluing the status quo.

Most chapters and committees developed their cultures accidentally. They’re filled with a lot of “we’ve always done it that way.” By demanding our board members get experience in these generally old-fashioned settings, we are setting ourselves up for board members who don’t particularly push the envelope and that can be a problem.

2. The ladder ends up skewing our board members older.

Many associations have memberships that skew older, simply because joining your professional association is often something you do at least a little bit later in your career, rather than at the entry level. Add the multiple years of service required to be on the board, and you end up with a diversity problem. We need differing views and levels of experience to get the best decisions.

3. It can generate a sense of entitlement.

When board service becomes a pinnacle of professional experience, it actually supports our Board members in elevating their expectations a bit. They expect to be in charge, to be able to “leave a mark” on the industry and maybe even to be pampered and taken care of — after all, they “earned” it through those years of service. What if it weren’t some huge honor to be on the board, but it was more of an opportunity to do some good things by practicing some sound leadership?

What ways might you shake up your volunteer ladder to enable a stronger culture at the board level?

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

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