Channel Your Inner Churchill

For many years on boards, my use of the admonition to never let a good crisis go to waste was often met with understanding, acknowledgement, enthusiasm … and then reluctance.

Change is hard. People are slow to change if they don’t see a burning platform. Boards did not really understand why we did things a certain way because we had always done them that way.

Besides, it worked … until it didn’t.


Reimagining the Future

I only recently discovered that the phrase Never let a good crisis go to waste originated with Winston Churchill. He was a great wartime leader, but his track record in peacetime was less successful.

The same thing could apply to some of today’s boards and CEOs – those without the agility, responsiveness, and vision to re-imagine the future as we plan to emerge, at some point, from these uncertain times.

The other day, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo posed an interesting question during his daily briefing. He asked,

“Why do we say we’re going to re-open? Instead, why not reimagine how we do things? Use and plan for change that normally we could never do without this situation.”

How ready is your board to have that kind of conversation – one that requires foresight and imagination? If not now, when?

I see some things emerging:

  1. Our boards want to work, they want to help, and they want to participate. We intentionally created a safe zone so as not to overwhelm management with board involvement during the initial crisis. We made some tough decisions in the face of unprecedented challenges.
  2. We’ve adapted to the current conditions. We figured out how to have virtual meetings and we dusted off our business continuity plans.  
  3. What’s next? How do we come out on the other side to be better than we were before? It’s time for boards to re-engage. Now is the time for strategic discussions to reimagine what our new organization could look like.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said it best,

“We don’t want to go back to normal. We want to be better than we were.”

It’s important for leaders to appreciate that each board director has their own lens through which they view the world, and their own careers and life experiences that influence their opinions and recommendations. This diversity provides great value to the board and to the organization. Still, have some empathy for the Board Chair who must channel these diverse views and keep everyone aligned with the organization’s core purpose.

And by the way, is that core purpose still intact?


What would the Savvy Director do?

Savvy directors are curious about what the future could look like if the organization aspires to be better than before. But reimagining the future is not indulging in fantasy. It also requires thinking about the art of what’s possible.

And so, savvy directors articulate their views within a process that brings everybody along in the discussion. They ensure both the Board Chair and CEO are fully engaged in the process. They work hard to ensure the emerging consensus supports a clear burning platform for change.

To build a foundation for these discussions about a willed future, savvy directors focus on four key areas: people, finance, strategy and risk. I refer to these collectively as The Savvy Director’s Focus.

Key Questions

Here are some key questions that savvy directors might ask within these four focus areas:

  • How do we keep our company culture alive?
  • How should the board balance short-term workforce needs with the need to retain talent?
  • How will 2020 executive compensation be assessed?
  • What is the succession plan if the CEO falls ill?
  • What HR priorities do we address going forward to stay aligned with our core purpose?
  • What is the company’s ability to cover near-term expenses?
  • How strong is our underlying business model?
  • What trade-offs do we have to make around payroll expenses?
  • What planned capital expenditures should we be expanding or contracting to align with our core purpose?
  • How comfortable are we with our short- and medium-term cash flow?
  • Are there opportunities to be considered in light of the crisis?
  • Where does digital technology fit into our future?
  • How should our organization’s strategy and business model respond to changes in customer and client needs and preferences as a result of the crisis?
  • Are we behaving as a socially responsible organization?
  • Do we need to adjust our supply chains?
  • What do we need to do to ensure the health and safety of our workforce?
  • How do we ensure we are sufficiently engaged with our funders and stakeholders?
  • Are we prepared to work remotely for an extended period of time? What are the impacts?

Building this foundation allows our boards to get to the fundamental question:  “How would we reimagine this organization if we were starting it now?”


Your takeaways:

  • Given that every organization has a different view of its capacity and readiness to reimagine the future of work, boards are now getting ready to have those discussions with management.
  • You have an important role to play. Being prepared to effectively participate in those discussions is vital. Do the work to prepare and have influence on those discussions. Savor the prep.
  • Crises have the benefit of exposing the strengths of character and the skills present in all of our team members, from the board through to the front lines. Unfortunately, the same is true of gaps that become evident, and these must be addressed. Boards need to assess the capabilities, if any, that are lacking in the management team to carry the organization forward into the future.



Here are some recent links you may find helpful:


Leave a comment below to get in on the conversation.

Thank you.


Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.


Share Your Insight: In your view, what considerations should be included when reimagining the future of your organization post-pandemic?



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