You don‘t meet many boards where its members complain that there is not enough to do or that they struggle to fill board time. NEDs are rightly conscious of keeping clear boundaries around the commitment that is expected of them and EDs want to have the right balance between preparing for/attending board and running the business.
The workload of a board will vary depending on the phase the organisation finds itself in: lots of change generally means a heavier workload as boards seek to manage the risks associated with it. In addition to monitoring progress against strategy and business as usual, all boards must respond to developments in their external environment: governance and regulatory updates, market changes, new technology, different customer requirements; supplier and partner developments.
So all in all it is not surprising that boards do a lot of “doing”. Time is precious and it feels like there is a lot to get through. But boards must also allow time for thinking. In particular they have to be alert to the issues which require further thought BEFORE any action is embarked on.
If boards have a default position which is to rush to action, the danger is that they might sometimes be the wrong actions. Sometimes the idea of dedicating board time to exploring issues or arranging a board development or strategy day where this thinking can happen, feels like a luxury too far. Often a subgroup is dispatched to come back with recommendations or EDs are tasked with finding a solution.
For some issues this is ok, but for more complex matters which have far reaching impact there is no substitute for the whole board doing the thinking together led by the Chair. In a CIPD conference session, Nick Pope, global learning director at Unilever, looked at the changing model of leadership and the high potential of teams, rather than individuals. Citing research from America, he said: “The impact of the board functioning as a team is a greater predictor (eight times) of corporate performance than individual director demographics.”
Indeed one of the key principles of the Corporate Governance code reflects this: “Essential to the effective functioning of any board is dialogue which is both constructive and challenging”. Our board review work leads us to the view that the most effective boards are those that value and make time for individual and collective thinking and don‘t automatically rush to actions.
For more information, please contact Judith Nicol, Director of Leadership Services.