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The Savvy Director Blog

Welcome to The Savvy Director™ blog, a place to engage on board governance topics as you travel the path to being a savvy director. 

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The Way We Do Things Around Here

This is the third of three articles on the topic of human capital. The first, Overseeing “Our Greatest Asset”, dealt with the board’s role in Human Capital Management and the second, The Talent-Savvy Board, dealt with Talent Management. In this article we explore the importance of organizational culture.

An organization’s culture can make or break a brilliant strategy and build or damage the careers of experienced executives. A positive culture that aligns well with strategy can produce innovation, growth, leadership, ethical behavior, and customer satisfaction. But a negative or misaligned culture can impede strategic outcomes, erode performance, diminish customer loyalty, and discourage employee engagement.

Yet, despite its importance, corporate culture has only rarely appeared on board agendas. Few boards have spent time overseeing culture with anything like the rigor they’ve applied to compliance, strategy, risk, or CEO succession.


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The Talent-Savvy Board

This is the second of three articles on the topic of human capital. The first, Overseeing “Our Greatest Asset”, dealt with the board’s role in Human Capital Management. Next week’s article will deal with Organizational Culture.
Providing oversight of an organization’s top talent has long been a core responsibility for boards of directors. They play a critical role in hiring and firing the CEO, evaluating the performance of top executives, and developing leadership succession plans.
Traditionally, directors have focused their efforts on the organization’s most senior leaders – typically the C-suite and senior executives – leaving oversight of the broader workforce to management. Oversight of senior leaders was seen as strategic, while the rest of the workforce was viewed as operational – the purview of management.
But nowadays, boards are coming to understand that even the most brilliant strategy is only as...
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Overseeing “Our Greatest Asset”

This is the first of three articles dealing with Human Capital Management. The next two will deal with Talent Management and Organizational Culture.
Historically, organizations have viewed their workforce through a financial lens. The well-worn phrase “our people are our greatest asset” marked a transition from viewing people as just another operating expense to considering them as intangible assets that represent a fundamental component of the organization’s economic value.
But more recently, many organizations have taken another step forward to begin looking at their workforce as a living entity. This trend started before the global pandemic, and it’s only continued to intensify throughout this period of social and economic upheaval that we’re all living through.
It’s more obvious every day – if there was ever any doubt – that an organization’s long-term success is dependent on attracting, retaining, and...
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Shifting into High Gear

This article is the second of two dealing with board engagement. Click here for our first article – Getting in Gear.
In the first Savvy Director article on board engagement, Getting in Gear, we explored the meaning of board engagement, some of the signs of engaged or disengaged boards, and how to measure board engagement. The title “getting in gear” implied moving from a neutral position  – with gears disengaged – to low gear to start dealing with board matters in an effective way.
In this second article, we’re talking about shifting into a higher gear to attain more speed and power. High gear enables us to do our board work more energetically, vigorously, and effectively.
A high level of board engagement doesn’t just happen. Like anything worthwhile, it takes intention and effort. Let’s explore some ways that a board of directors can get into high gear by upping its board engagement.


Set the Tone from...

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Getting in Gear

This article is the first of two dealing with board engagement. Part 2, “Shifting into High Gear,” was published on April 24th.

I like the metaphor of “getting in gear” to refer to the topic of board engagement. It’s a familiar phrase that means “starting to deal with something in an effective way.” When a board of directors gets in gear, it starts to deal with the issues and concerns in front of it in an effective way. In other words, it makes an impact. 

To stretch the metaphor just a bit further, let’s think of individual directors as the gears. When directors are appropriately engaged, they work together to change the speed and direction of the board – just as gears can change the speed and direction of a machine. 

Every board wants engaged directors, and every director wants to serve on a board with a high level of engagement.
It stands to reason. Engaged directors are motivated to invest their time...
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Navigating Our VUCA World

This article is the second of two dealing with our VUCA world and how the board of directors can help their organizations to navigate its challenges. Click here for our first article - Living in a VUCA World.
Like it or not, we find ourselves living in a VUCA world - one characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Our environment is changing rapidly and in unexpected ways. It can be hard to discern the best path forward in the face of this shifting reality.
In our previous Savvy Director article, Living in a VUCA World, we explored the meaning of VUCA and how it impacts us, found that the ability to be agile in the face of disruption helps organizations to survive and thrive, and discussed how people, culture, and leadership are key to organizational agility.
Now let's turn our attention to how boards and individual directors can help their organizations navigate the VUCA world.


VUCA and the Board

If the board views its role...
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Living in a VUCA World

This article is the first of two dealing with our VUCA world and how the board of directors can help their organizations to navigate its challenges. Part 2, Navigating our VUCA World, was published on April 3rd. Click here for Part 2.
As a board director, are you finding that your organization is operating in an environment that has changed radically – and keeps changing at an accelerating pace? 
If so, you’re not alone. You're facing a VUCA world. Surviving and thriving in that world demands a different approach and a new way of seeing the organization. 
VUCA is an acronym composed of four terms: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. The term has been embraced by leaders in all sectors to describe the challenges they find themselves facing. These days, VUCA is on the verge of becoming a trendy catchall phrase, a more sophisticated way of saying, “Hey, it’s crazy out there!”
We can't change the...
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Ever-Changing Tech

Would you agree that staying on top of technology developments shouldn’t be left to the one tech-fluent director on your board?
Just as it’s no longer acceptable to defer all the responsibility for understanding the financial statements to the accountant on the board, I feel that keeping up with the techies has to become a shared responsibility for all board directors.
It’s pretty clear to me that all directors need to have their heads in the tech game – at least well enough to know the score and who’s playing whom. These days, simply asking, “Are we covered here?” isn’t good enough to satisfy our legal duties when it comes to overseeing technology risks.
And what about the upside of that risk – the abundant opportunities posed by technology? Digital transformation is all around us, in organizations big and small. It can mean automating the manual processes that numb employees’ spirits, freeing them up...
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Is Your Board a High Value Team?

by Alice Sayant, ICD.D
We’ve all had experience with teams – sport teams, project teams, work teams, whatever. So, when we join a board of directors, are we joining another team? Can we apply our life experience with other kinds of teams to the work of the board?
“When most people think of high-performing teams, they think of sports teams, trauma center professionals, or fire department crews. They rarely think of … boards. Still, if you want an exceptional board, you need to create a high-performing board team.” - Governing As a Team. BoardSource
Not all boards are teams. Sometimes they operate more as a group of individual players. That can result in mixed messages, individualized priorities and performance metrics, and failure to tap the collective mind of the board.
Still, in many ways, a well-functioning board is a lot like a sports team — a group of talented individuals, each with unique and complementary strengths,...
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Patience in the Boardroom

“Patience is the art of concealing your impatience.” – Guy Kawasaki, American marketing specialist

When we asked our Savvy Director readers, “What boardroom skills do you want to have help with?” a number of you responded with variations on the themes of how to exercise more patience, how to be more tolerant, and – to be brutally direct – how not to get frustrated with other directors.

I get it. Sometimes, after an unsatisfying board meeting, I’ve thought to myself, “Board work would be great if it weren’t for all the other people in the room!”

It’s okay to indulge that secret thought for a moment or two. But the reality is that board work is a group activity – that’s the nature of the beast. If we don’t learn to channel those frustrations into something more positive and productive, the road to being a Savvy Director is going to be a rough one.

There are two reasons I particularly like our...

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