Crafting Approaches to How You Delegate is the Key to How You Respond to Your Board


Finding your comfort zone with “teach, negotiate, and tell” ratios may be the key to every interaction

I was recently working with two new CEOs and discussing the art of both building teams and of reporting to the board of directors. We got started on the idea of using a formula to govern your interactions with each. For my staff, I use the following: 80% Affirmation, 10% Adjustment, and 10% Reversal/Rejection. When presenting to the board: 60% what we’ve done, 20% what we’re doing, and 20% what we’re considering.

Finding the right tone and approach to this is key to your role as CEO. Strict adherence to this way of thinking is not the objective here; rather you should always keep these ratios in your head as you delegate assignments and work with your board to build a better organization. Team members need the feeling that you have truly entrusted them with the assignment and are relying on their skill set. Board members similarly need to be involved and trusted. When you read through these, relate them to the concept of TNT: Teach, Negotiate, Tell.

Working with your staff

This ratio is about building trust and confidence in your teams, and continuing to develop them over time. Veering away can be damaging both to the speed at which you’re developing products and services (by making too many adjustments) and to the relationship you have with your team (by rejecting their ideas too often).

80% affirmation

This comes down to trust. If you have delegated to the right person and communicated the objective well, the variance in their outcomes will be slight or minimal in comparison to your expectations for the assignment. Remember leading is adjusting and if the team member is 5-10 degrees off your track that adjustment is generally small; pace is the key and constantly forcing adjustments for slight differences will slow the machinery. Leaders need great instincts and speed to adjustment. Affirmation is letting the teammate Tell you; receiving their tell interaction in the right way builds trust and confidence in their ability to make calls.

10% adjustment

When the team member is on the right track, but has veered off to the side a bit too far, use a Negotiate/Teach approach to make the adjustments necessary to reach a consensus on the assignment’s direction. 10% Adjustment is the act of finding the win-win in the move forward. You’re reassuring the staff of your confidence in them to make the right decisions, but working with them to ensure the final product isn’t too far removed from the original idea.

10% reversal/rejection

While it might feel like the formal power play, work to avoid that sense. Reversal/Rejection is simply your Tell/Teach message to them. You’re still confident in their abilities, but you’re letting them know they’re off the mark and this is your opportunity to communicate where they can get back on track—build a two-way street with teammates. Just don’t forget the ratio—if you’re rejecting your teams more than 10% of the time, you will damage the relationship and make them feel as though you’ve lost confidence in them. If you feel like you are rejecting too much, consider how you’re communicating those expectations to the individual before they get started.

60-20-20 for presenting to the board

Do you give enough facts and opinions to let the board get to know you and trust your evaluation of things? Do you allow for the TNT (Teach, Negotiate, Tell) in the evaluation of your delivery of opinion and task? And are you delivering the right percentages of Accomplished, Working on It, and Thinking About It issues in your reports, presentations, and agendas? They must learn your approach and you must trust their feedback—use TNT to find the right balance.

60% what we’ve done

A key role for a board is to evaluate and confirm work done, and the correctness of the work on the path to the organization’s success. Does the firm execute on track with the firm’s plans, philosophy, and culture? Can it be trusted and will you, the leader, prove it?! It’s easy to get excited about what we’re doing now and what we’re dreaming of, but it’s important to reflect on our accomplishments and to affirm our teams’ successes. Allow your board to become too focused on what’s next, and they won’t stop to appreciate the hard work it took to get there.

20% what we’re doing

The next thing I focus on is giving the board the foundation that they are engaged and in the mix of things. Do not embarrass boards by letting them be surprised by initiatives/efforts undisclosed; they drive with you, not in the back seat. Share openly the projects you’re working on and the work that’s going into it. Let them in on the process.

20% what we’re considering

The next role I focus on is giving the board the respect of heeding their advice and input ahead of the game. This is the art of asking what they would consider doing and avoiding the blank page requests that make committees uncomfortable and ineffective. You are listening all the time to triage issues for the planning page, do not have moments where you make them fill it out.

Whether you’re dealing with staff or your boards, it’s a good idea to have ratios like these in your mind. When you don’t stop to think about how you’re interacting with each, it can be easy to let those interactions get away from you. Build trust with both your staff and your board by keeping these in mind. If you have ratios of your own that you use, let me know. Tell me why I’m wrong!


  • Randy Karnes

    From 1994 to 2021, Mr. Karnes was CEO of CU*Answers, a credit union-owned CUSO that provides core processing, consulting, management, and technology services. An active participant in the credit union industry since 1985, Mr. Karnes currently serves on the Boards of Xtend and eDOC Innovations and formerly served on the Board of Callahan and Associates for many years. Mr. Karnes has an infectious vision and drive for bringing credit unions together to explore the power of collaboration in entirely new ways. His enthusiasm for imagining and building new credit union business models has been helping to change the way many credit unions will approach serving members now and in the future.

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