Thoughts from Ken Kaufman

The Value of the Board Retreat

3 minute
Board meeting

For those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you know that my focus tends toward either hospital operations or healthcare policy. Today I want to change the pace and talk about the value of a well-planned and well-executed Board retreat.

The current hospital environment is highly challenged from both a financial and clinical perspective. For many hospitals, getting back on track is going to require a different level of operations, cost control, and a major pivot in strategic direction. To accomplish this will require that the Board and executive team assess the position of the hospital from the same perspective and then pull in the same direction as operations and execution become more and more important.

Given the complex externalities and internalities of this environment the role of the Board retreat has taken on greater importance. A few characteristics of this value follow:

Board Education. Ask any prominent hospital CEO about what most contributed to her of his hospital’s long-term success, and one of the key answers will be Board education—constant, consistent, persistent, and high-quality Board education. But in the current circumstances, there is never enough organizational time for relevant Board education. Meetings are dominated by crises and pressing issues, which crowd out education. The Board retreat can provide that regular “time out” for a more considered and thoughtful education process.

Contrarian and Controversial Points of View. As hospitals re-think their overall strategy and competitive positioning, it may very well be time to re-think things from a more contrarian perspective. The “same old same old” may just not deliver anymore. It is time to consider strategies that are not only contrarian, but perhaps even controversial. For many organizations, a retreat is the only setting where Board members can engage with ideas that are simply never brought up in regular meeting cadences.

Quick Action. Every hospital is challenged by outside economic forces and by problems that arrive in unexpected ways. Some of these problems and challenges require very quick decisions, and that quick pace often makes Board members quite uncomfortable. CEOs tell me that the answer to the stresses of quick decisions is a well-educated Board. A Board that is informed on a wide range of hard issues is more apt to move quickly and move with imperfect information. A retreat is one place where the Board can become more comfortable with the pace of hospital industry change.

Opportunity to Talk About the Long View. A well-educated Board fully understands the hospital’s short-term problems and the proposed solutions to issues on the immediate horizon. But for many hospitals, consideration of the long view is just as important. And the Board retreat is often the only venue where a well-considered long-view discussion can take place in a way that all Board members can equally participate.

For years, Kaufman Hall has been a strong supporter of the well-planned and well-executed Board retreat. Collectively, our consulting team has been part of hundreds and hundreds of retreats. Although we often help plan and moderate retreat presentations and discussions, our most frequent role is as keynote speaker, with the keynote presentations taking on many different topics, themes, and perspectives. Our keynote bench is very deep, but three of our most called-upon retreat speakers are Lisa Goldstein, Chas Roades, and Lisa Bielamowicz, MD—the latter two who lead Gist Healthcare, which recently joined the Kaufman Hall family. Kaufman Hall is more than delighted to support your Board retreat process at a time when a retreat may be more valuable than ever to your organization’s progress and success.

To learn more about how Kaufman Hall can be of help, please contact Rob Fromberg, who leads our overall thought leadership effort. Rob can be reached at

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