Companies continue to operate in an ever-evolving, volatile business environment post-pandemic, and the board’s effectiveness in matters of strategy, leadership, and growth are as crucial as ever. Boards need to stay focused on the ways in which they’re able to add value to the organisation. But are they rising to the challenge?
In this article, we define the attributes of a high-impact board. We also provide five concrete tactics that boards can adopt to make a lasting impact on the organisation.
WHAT IS A HIGH-VALUE BOARD?
This EY article defines a high-value board as “one that leverages its diversity of relevant expertise and experiences to offer strategic insights and provide effective challenge [to management]…to thrive through this time of volatility.”
These times demand more from the board. High-impact and high-value boards are now called to not only dispense strategic counsel and wisdom or challenge management’s viewpoints at board meetings, but also take a proactive approach towards continuous improvement. They must regularly assess performance against mission-critical objectives and strive to operate in an effective and efficient fashion.
HOW BOARDS CAN SUCCEED IN MAKING A LONG-TERM IMPACT FOR THEIR ORGANISATIONS
1.) Improve the CEO-Board relationship.
This relationship is sometimes downplayed or overlooked, but it is integral to board impact and effectiveness.
The same EY article cited above states that the global business crisis in the last few years stimulated more frequent interactions and deeper engagement between the CEO and the board. This initial momentum towards stronger, more meaningful CEO-Board interactions might be worth pursuing.
A strong CEO-Board relationship makes room for more candid conversations and builds a culture of mutual respect and trust. As boards make themselves more available to the CEO, board members become more committed, engaged, and accessible.
First, they’re able to help the CEO maintain a long-term focus, and shed light on their specific blind spots. This can assist in ensuring strategic alignment between the board and management.
Second, the CEO-Board relationship also becomes an avenue for the board to better understand and know the business. With the insights contributed by the CEO, board members are empowered to share relevant experiences and proactively provide a diversity of views and perspectives for more meaningful discussions around operations, the business’ competitive environment, and its customers.
A healthy CEO-Board relationship can help underscore the board’s impact and value to the organisation.
2.) Establish systems and practices that will make it easier for the board to obtain the information they need.
As the adage goes, “information is power.” Without access to timely and relevant information, boards are unable to effectively administer their duties. An effective board data and information infrastructure provides information that is complete, accurate, and concise to board members.
Some best practices to help boards achieve long-term impact in this area would be to:
a.) Make use of a board portal.
A board portal is a highly-secure, online, centralised hub that manages board governance activities and maintains all board-related documents. The board portal is a platform that serves as a single source-of-truth for all board information that is accessible to all board members (often with specific, assigned security settings) at anytime, and from any place. It virtually eliminates the need to resort to unsecure email threads to exchange sensitive company information.
Board portal software streamlines the information workflows between a director and his/her fellow board members, as well as between the board and senior executives. It makes information sharing seamless, secure, and timely. Making use of a board portal helps boards focus on the strategic work in front of them, as opposed to managing administrative board tasks.
b.) Provide board meeting materials in a timely manner.
On top of accessibility, board members should be given adequate time to review board documents.
Board meeting materials, specifically the board pack, for instance, should be sent at least two weeks prior to a board meeting in order to provide the board with sufficient time to study the document. This leads to more productive, insightful, collaborative meetings.
c.) Present materials with the board’s time and priorities in mind.
Board members are busy people. The constraints on their time make it necessary to present board materials concisely and effectively.
Board meeting materials should have an executive summary, for example. Technical documents such as financial reports, equity compensation plans, or merger agreements, etc., need to have a one or two-pager summary identifying the issue and ask from the board.
This helps keep board debates and discussions on track and prevents the board from being inundated with information (“information overload”). The latter, most especially, can hinder good decision-making.
In summary, information workflows that make sense for the board help drive its ability to make an impact. With a reliable communications architecture in place, boards have access to the information they need, delivered when they require it, and presented in the formats they desire.
All of these lead to more insightful and productive board reviews and meetings, and better strategic governance and oversight.
(For more information on meeting and information-delivery best practices, read our “Effective Meetings for Better Governance” ebook here.)
3.) Rebalance the board’s focus to include crisis prevention and preparation alongside other emerging priorities.
Many boards still believe that they’re able to best deliver value in traditional, process-driven areas such as capital allocation, succession planning, risk oversight, productivity, etc. But as the last few years have taught us, building the board’s capabilities around crisis prevention and preparedness as well as emerging issues such as cybersecurity, ESG, digital transformation, and business disruption are critical to making an impact. These issues require considerable board input as well.
The EY article goes on to state that it would be detrimental to ignore the impacts of these issues on “total enterprise value, access to (and cost of) capital, and the ability of the organisation to attract talent.”
To make a long-lasting impact, it’s therefore critical to ensure that the board rebalances its traditional priorities to factor-in emerging, long term value drivers. They need to find their place in the board meeting agenda.
4.) Implement, measure, and act on board evaluations and assessments.
Most boards conduct an annual performance evaluation to assess individual and collective contributions. This shouldn’t be seen as a “check-the-box” or “fill-out-the-template” activity.
Board evaluations require more thoughtful reflection of overall individual and team performance, measured against specified goals. Evidence of the board’s performance should “manifest in company financial performance, including growth through the innovation it fosters and cost reduction the risks it helps the company avoid.”
Regular feedback sessions after every meeting can be beneficial to improving the board’s performance as well. High quality feedback helps boards and directors recognise their areas for improvement and identify how they can improve and communicate better.
It’s important to remember that the board evaluation becomes an effective measure to determine whether the board’s composition, dynamics, operations and structure serve the interests of the company, from a short and long-term lens.
5.) Invest in board onboarding and training.
New board members need to learn about the organisation’s strategy, culture, and its different ways of operating. It’s not an easy endeavour. Regardless of their skillsets and background, this can take significant time if onboarding efforts aren’t prioritised.
Adequate onboarding practices (ideally partially tailored) can help directors get up to speed so they can make impactful contributions and actively participate in board governance activities sooner rather than later.
Boards who are proactive, invest their time in relationships, commit to effective processes, and possess an orientation towards continuous improvement are effective by definition. And it is evident that these times demand such boards. Adopting some — or all — of these tactics can help unlock the full potential of the board. These incremental changes can have a positive, lasting impact on the organisation’s resilience and success.