Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development in the School of Management at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, recently conducted a study of over 1200 boards from around the world. Fully 75% of those boards reported not knowing how they contribute value to their organizations. While sad, I am not surprised by this finding. The culture of most boards precludes engagement. And, if there is no engagement how can we expect anyone to have even a sense of belonging, let alone of providing import to the organization?
For instance, when was the last time your board was engaged in a substantive discussion? I don’t mean that the directors were asked to vote on a recommendation or to discuss the merits of the two companies submitting bids to fix the roof. Rather, they were expected to ask “What if…,” to explore working in tandem with a group that has always been seen as the competition or to consider how to turn a risk into a unique opportunity to move the organization forward?
I routinely ask boards with which I’m going to work to share with me their typical agenda. Most follow a format that is strong on reports. How much value can board members bring if all they are doing is listening to reports? What’s worse: reports focus on the past. Nobody can change the past. If you want board members to feel they are bringing value to your organization, you must engage them – their excitement, commitment and unique talents – around issues that they can impact. This requires providing them with the information they need or request, turning them loose to grapple with the issues and supporting their conclusions. If you have grounded your board around your organizational vision and values you have nothing to fear and much to gain.
There’s an old adage that, “If two people in business think alike, one of them is unnecessary.” We need the diversity of thought that our boards bring to the table. Our decisions become better. Best, the process cuts both ways. People who have had the opportunity to offer input feel valued.
But, all of this is for naught if we don’t share with our boards the results of their efforts. Otherwise, for all they know, they wasted their time in merely a mental exercise. If we want our boards to feel valued, we have to demonstrate that their product – their intellectual capital and their efforts – made a difference. And, it doesn’t hurt to thank them for that, either!