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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. 

If you're interested in upping your game at the board table, no matter the size of your board or the type of organization you serve, subscribe below to receive a weekly link right in your email inbox.

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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Elevating the Boardroom Discussion

We often hear from readers looking for ways to elevate their boardroom discussions to a more strategic level. That makes sense. Strategic discussions are more interesting, forward thinking, and robust than those that drill down into the minutiae of operations.

When the agenda and reading material don’t reflect the organization’s high level strategy - instead being filled with pages of execution detail and ‘busy work’ metrics - is it any wonder directors slow the meeting down with operational questions? They’re just responding to what’s put in front of them.

Directors work on what you give them. If you give them an agenda focused on committee reports, they’ll spend their time listening with minimal input. In fact, if you don’t give them anything to work on, they just might work on you.

Instead, the key to achieving a consistently elevated board discussion – one that engages directors at a strategic level - is a relentless...

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Finance & Audit Wants YOU!

Non-financial board directors are missing a huge opportunity by not serving on finance and audit committees. I know that sounds odd if you’re particularly averse to the numbers or believe that you don’t have an aptitude for them.
 
But take it from me - a non-financial director - participating on a finance and audit committee is a far more enjoyable experience than writing an accounting or corporate finance exam. There’s no last minute cramming or pulling an all-nighter. Instead, there’s a collaborative approach among team members to make the right decision on a financial matter that’s real - not a case study or a theoretical problem.
 
Today’s financial issues are more complex and forward-thinking than they used to be. The thoughtful, curious question that a non-financial director with good listening skills can bring to a finance committee meeting has the potential to move the discussion forward and ultimately produce a better...
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When to Stop Talking

This response from a Savvy Director reader to the question ‘What boardroom skills do you want to learn?’ caught my attention:
 
“Knowing when there is no added value to ongoing discussion.”
 
You might think that particular skill is one that needs to be exercised by the board chair. After all, it’s the chair’s responsibility to guide the discussion, make sure all voices have been heard, and recognize when the time is right to bring the discussion to a close.
 
Yet each individual director at the board table also needs to make a similar determination when it comes to their own participation in the discussion. Have I said enough? Have I made my point? Is it time to stop talking? Have I stopped adding value?
 
Knowing when to stop talking requires being present, listening carefully, and, above all, a healthy dose of self-awareness.

 

Adding Value

What does it mean to add value to a discussion? How does that happen?
 
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ESG for SMEs

ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) strategies are all the rage. But that’s just for big publicly-traded companies, isn’t it? 
 
Not so fast. 
 
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and non-profits are discovering that they’re in the same boat. Just like major corporations, they face a need to meet expectations about their ESG strategy. If ESG is not on your radar yet, it soon will be.
 
“There’s increased pressure from stakeholders to be more transparent and accountable on ESG performance no matter what the size of the company is.” - Roopa Davé, Partner, Sustainability Services, KPMG
 
ESG is becoming a priority for every organization, regardless of its size, scope, and the sector where it operates. How should you and your board get started?

 

ESG Explained

ESG focuses on a company’s efforts in three areas - Environmental, Social, and Governance.
  • Environmental matters focus on climate...
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Talent vs. Effort

 

Your success as a board director isn’t about how smart you are, it’s about your willingness to do the work. I’m calling it ‘Boardroom Grit’. Is there such a thing?

Think about the wealthy dude who gets a seat at the high profile charity board table because of the size of his family’s foundation and the potential for a sizeable gift someday … how gritty is that when he never opens the meeting materials and confirms that reality with his off-topic comments and rabbit-hole questions?

Today’s Savvy Director blog topic was inspired by the best-selling psychology book, ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.

While Dr. Duckworth shares extensive research demonstrating that talent alone is not enough to ensure achievement, it was her many real-life examples in athletics, the arts, medicine, business, and academics, that I found so compelling.

Her premise?

Talent without intentional practice is a...

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Making Arguments with Impact

One skill that Savvy Directors are always interested in improving is their ability to make clear concise arguments. When their board is faced with a decision, they want to express their views on the issue and try to convince their fellow directors.
 
Having influence in the boardroom requires good communication skills, like active listening and knowing how to ask tough but fair questions. But sooner or later every director has to speak up – otherwise you might as well pack up and go home. And when you do choose to speak, you want to make sure your words have the impact you intended.
 
In the context of boardroom discussion, the word argument shouldn’t be seen as having a negative connotation. In fact, good, solid arguments are the basis of persuasive communication. You can think about them in the same way as a lawyer making legal arguments, or a debater presenting arguments for or against an issue. They’re intended to change people’s minds.
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