Is Your Board Planning for Excellence?

The damage prevention industry has seen tremendous positive change in its history as 811 centers have grown in influence and effectiveness because of advances in areas such as legislation, technology, and staffing. But what about the future? Are you prepared with plans that will help ensure your continued success? Consider:

• Has your board developed a strategic plan that provides direction for your 811 center, with measures to ensure you’re getting where you want to go?

• Have you planned business continuity, especially considering the interruptions from COVID-19?

• Do you have an orientation and training plan to equip your board members to fulfill their responsibilities?

Each of these plays an important part in the success of your 811 center. Even the best trained boards need purpose and direction to ensure they make decisions that move the organization forward. As Laurence J. Peter (Peter Principle) said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” Developing strategy is a key board responsibility. The board is responsible for casting vision and providing direction for staff as they implement strategies to accomplish the mission. Key elements of strategic planning include:

1.Developing/adopting the organization’s mission

2.Identifying the organization’s internal strengths

3.Identifying areas that need improvement

4.Identifying new opportunities on the horizon

5.Identifying threats to your success

6.Developing strategic goals and objectives that drive excellence

7.Developing a plan for consistent monitoring and assessment

An example of why strategic planning is so important is the recent reaction to the spread of COVID-19. Many 811 centers and countless businesses had to make unexpected, immediate changes to comply with social distancing requirements and facilitate working from home. There have been other catastrophic challenges (such as the tornado that destroyed Alabama 811’s building) that have raised awareness of how critical it is to have a proactive plan for business continuity. Your 811 board needs to ensure that the center has a plan and is prepared to continue operations when normal business is not possible. This may be accomplished through the strategic plan or policies and procedures. The best time to develop a business continuity plan is now while the operational changes you recently made are fresh and before you need it again.

It is also essential to train and equip board members to understand and assume their responsibilities, including strategic planning. Many people are recruited to serve on a nonprofit board without training on what is expected of them. Others may serve for years and still find themselves making decisions from their employer’s perspective rather than the 811 center’s perspective. It is important to offer orientation to new board members soon after they are elected. One aspect of orientation that is always helpful is a visit to the 811 center to meet staff and learn about the operations.

The line sometimes blurs between what the board is charged with doing and what the board should delegate to the CEO/ED. Having a clear understanding of this will make your board more effective. While this is especially important for new board members, the most effective boards provide periodic training for experienced members to ensure continued understanding. One area that often needs to be clarified on an 811 board is the responsibility to serve the 811 center, not the board member’s employer. Having open discussion about this, including addressing how to handle conflicts of interest, is helpful in avoiding confusion.

This industry is important. It makes a difference in saving lives, protecting property, and improving service levels. I have personally experienced the effect that a serious digging accident has on employees and their families. That’s what we’re all working together to prevent. As you serve your 811 organization, I encourage your board to develop plans for strategic direction, business continuity, and board development that will help you achieve excellence.

Nancy Davis, principal, Davis Planning & Consulting, LLC can be reached at

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