You've Got to Get the Big Things Right

After twenty years, it’s time to say goodbye to an old friend … my office chair.

We started the business together in the late ‘90s. We were successful. We collaborated through thick and thin ─ literally. Always supportive, never a complaint. Until recently.

The business has changed. Yes, we’re still helping board directors prepare for board meetings, so they are ready to collaborate, contribute and influence decisions. That’s why our DirectorPrep.com™ catchphrase is ‘Ready for Your Board Meeting?’ But now, we’re moving our business online, we’re writing blogs, and we’re recording training videos.

We’ve had good luck so far producing videos that managed to avoid capturing the office chair’s squeaks and groans in the audio feed. But change is hard. I did what I could to help the old chair make the transition ─ I applied some WD40, I tightened the screws, I kept it clean.

Despite knowing a replacement would be needed sooner or later, I felt little urgency. I had no succession plan for the old office chair. And now I will pay the price.


Really? This blog is about an office chair???

Of course, it’s not! It’s about decisions ─ the ones that boards are actually making, and the ones they should be making.

On a scale of one to four, my chair decision is a Level One ─ maybe a Level Two, given that we’re talking about our own company’s balance sheet and not a big corporate expense account. No, the truth is, this is barely a Level One decision, even for our boutique firm. So, let’s just get on with it and buy a new chair already!

I recall, rather wistfully, starting a new position in a long past corporate life when the office admin staff arranged for delivery of three high-end executive chairs for me to try out, so I could choose my favorite. Funny, that just doesn’t happen at Staples or Costco. LOL!

Instead, I conducted some research and developed a list of criteria and specs to pursue. Following an internet search, I spent half a day visiting high-end office furniture stores and mainstream office supply stores.

It was sort of like board recruitment ─ do the work, try it out, sit with it.

In the end, the price really did not matter as much as getting the right fit. Again, sort of like board recruitment. Sometimes, the best director candidate is not the person with the highest profile, but the person with the best fit for the board’s needs.

While it would have been interesting trying to convince my partner to spend $1500 on a customized office chair, the right fit turned out to cost much less, plus it was in stock! I brought it home today. It’s still in the box. I’m not quite ready to assemble it.

Drafting this article is my final task with my old friend, the big green office chair. Writing a weekly blog is more challenging some weeks than others. This week, the words flow easily.


Getting the Big Things Right

As a board director, it has always been drummed into me that, collectively, the board’s priority for decision-making is to get the big things right. The small stuff, while important in its own way, is more operational than strategic.

Big decisions include:

  • Electing the right board chair.
  • Hiring the right CEO.
  • Developing a winning strategy.
  • Choosing the right tech platform.
  • Allocating sufficient resources at a reasonable cost.
  • Establishing organizational values supported by the right tone at the top.

These topics, and many others that rise to the board’s attention, are more complex than succession planning for office furniture! Now we’re talking Level Three and Four decision-making.

Are there tools and techniques to help boards with their high-level decision-making processes? Yes, as a matter of fact, there are.

What kind of discipline is required to open our toolbox and put the tools to work on a regular basis? What kind of cognitive biases do we need to watch out for? How do we guard against common decision-making weaknesses like Groupthink? How do we encourage directors to think critically and challenge assumptions?

Let’s just say I have a hunch board decision-making will be a topic for another day here at The Savvy Director™.

"Whether it is a natural disaster or a pandemic, decisiveness is not just making decisions that are in front of you, but thinking about what is likely to unfold next week, next month and beyond into recovery."

- Anna Bligh, AC. CEO, Australian Banking Association, and former Queensland premier

As directors, we meet infrequently, and we only have only so much time available. Let’s use it wisely, to deal with the big stuff – the Level Three and Four decisions. We have smart people to make the Level One and Two decisions and to execute the details. So, let’s make sure they’re working on the right things for the right reasons.

That's what getting the big things right is all about.

 

What about for you as an individual director?

Helping to keep your board focused on the big things requires serious preparation on your part. Here are a few tips.

  • Develop the habit of reviewing the board meeting agenda as soon as it arrives. This is a good way to get your head into the prep and think about the big things that are up for discussion.
  • Learn to identify the small stuff. Think in advance about whether you want to use your boardroom airtime to dwell on these matters of lesser strategic importance.
  • Download DirectorPrep’s PREParing for a Board Meeting to guide you through a simple system to get ready for your board meeting. It will help you to identify the big things and prepare some thoughtful questions to contribute to the discussion.

 

Your takeaways:

  • Getting the big things right keeps the board’s focus at a higher strategic level. It helps to bring the 80/20 rule to life ─ 20% of the decisions create 80% of the performance results.
  • Designing the meeting agenda to deal with the big things first is a powerful way to ensure the most important items receive appropriate time and attention from the board.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Trust your CEO and the management team to make the Level One and Two decisions and to execute the details.


Leave a comment below to get in on the conversation.

Thank you.

Scott

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


Share Your Insight: What kind of topics does your board consider to be the top priorities when allocating meeting time?

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