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.

What's in Your Offer?

Landing the board seat you want can be very competitive, even for the most seasoned corporate director. For the dedicated and experienced non-profit director, finding your way onto a board with influence on a cause that you care about can involve an opaque appointment process, especially if it’s controlled by government. And high-profile charities have a limited number of board seats that open up on an annual basis.

So, what can you do to set yourself apart from other well-qualified candidates?

Outside of the ‘who you know’ networking factor, having a board value proposition that highlights the unique combination of skills and experience that only you can bring is a powerful differentiator.

While good old-fashioned networking may get your foot in the door, it’s the clarity, authenticity, and persuasiveness of your board value proposition (BVP) that has the potential to get you to the interview stage and beyond.

 

Your value as an employee versus as...

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Biases 'R' Us

Let’s face it, a board director’s main job is to think – to think about finances, risks, strategy and people, and about all the other matters that come before a board of directors over the course of a governance year.

And while there is room around the board table for diverse thinking styles - analytical and strategic; people-focused, data-focused and process-focused; big picture thinkers and detailed thinkers; idealists, realists, and pragmatists; risk tolerant and risk averse – there’s no use for fuzzy thinking, muddled thinking or wishful thinking.

So, it’s important for an effective director to be hyper-aware of the barriers to clear thinking that affect a good decision – barriers that all of us have to cope with by virtue of being human. In previous Savvy Director blogs, we’ve written about some of those barriers such as Groupthink (Banish Groupthink from the Boardroom), subconscious assumptions (Don’t Believe Everything...

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More Music, Less News

Every edition of The Savvy Director works to connect you with some of the latest resources and thought leaders to stimulate your thinking and governance skills in becoming the most effective board director you can be. This week is no exception. We have a couple of great links for you on chairing a board.

We’re also highlighting a recently released report entitled High Performance in the Boardroom, from corporate director Tony Gaffney of Lambay Group Inc. with support from Canada’s Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD) and Odgers Berndtson. More than thirty of Canada’s leading board chairs and selected executives were interviewed. Stay tuned for details about that.

But first, I have a declaration to make. Consider it as the confession of a news junkie.

 

Confessions of a News Junkie

“I’m a news junkie.” There, I said it. To illustrate, we have a satellite TV service with over two hundred unique channels, but I watch fewer than six, of which...

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Preparing for a Board Interview

The board interview – it’s a key step in assessing the fit between a board of directors and a potential new board member. But for both parties – the board and the candidate - it’s so much more than that.

Last week The Savvy Director blog focused on the ‘fit’ – or lack thereof – between a board and potential new directors. We advised using behavioral questions to uncover candidates’ fit with the board. And we provided some questions for potential directors to help determine the board’s fit with them.

So let’s say you’ve thought hard about it and you’ve got a pretty good feeling about the fit between you and a particular board – good enough to take part in an interview, at least.

What should you expect? What should your goal be? And how should you prepare?

We’re going to try to answer those questions in this week’s blog.

 

What to Expect

Boards differ markedly in their approach to...

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Does 'Fit' Really Matter?

Recently, I worked with a board of directors to prepare a list of potential interview questions for prospective board members. The questions were carefully selected to try to uncover candidates’ ‘Three C’s’ – competence, character, and chemistry.

The first two C’s are fairly obvious. Competence questions focus on education, knowledge, skills, and experience. Character questions are meant to reveal the candidate’s integrity and moral courage.

But what is the third ‘C’ – chemistry? And how does the board assess it?

“I have experienced plenty of organizations where you have very capable people but don’t get anything like the best out of them because the dynamics and chemistry are not right.” – Ruth Cairnie, Chair, Babcock International Group

Another way of referring to ‘chemistry’ is ‘fit,’ as in, “Will this candidate be a good fit for our board?” Today’s...

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Next Wave Resilience

Everything written since April/May 2020 about ‘Building Back Better’ seems out-of-date. This applies especially to my own material!

Is it just me, or is this second/third wave of our little pandemic going to require more resilience for our boards and management teams than we needed in round one to lead through the uncertainty?

You can do this.

Nine months after the early onset of the virus, our communities, societies, and boardrooms are now thinking and talking more about diversity, climate change, systemic racism, social unrest, and an election season that just won’t go away. This is all piling on to the original goal of staying safe, keeping people funded, and figuring out what the new normal will look like.

By early summer, we did our best (?) to re-open safely. As predicted, the colder weather has arrived in the northern hemisphere along with new community spread concerns. Our friends in Australia/New Zealand are now into spring and have seen their way through...

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The DirectorPrep™ Resource Hub

You now have easy access to board resources all in one place. We’re talking about curated lists of podcasts, websites, blogs, books, social media and GNDI links.

Here’s why we did this for you.

Not long ago, we published a blog post called The Six Key Habits of The Savvy Director™. The very first key habit listed was Build Governance Skills.

I believe strongly that knowing and understanding the board’s role and directors’ responsibilities is an important attribute for effective board directors. You can't be a Savvy Director until you have a solid understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a board of directors, and of your own duties as a director.

The Resource Hub is designed to be useful for directors of all experience levels.

 

New and Aspiring Directors

I’ve done a lot of work with not-for-profits and spent a lot of time with first-time directors. I know how important it is for you to quickly grasp the fundamentals of board...

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Don't Believe Everything You Think

Over the years, I’ve reviewed countless proposals, reports, project plans and other documents in the course of my board work and as an advisor to boards. Somewhere in the document, often buried, there should be a section labeled ‘Assumptions.’ It lists the conscious decisions taken by management to treat the unknown as known. Typically, the list of assumptions will include finances, people, resources, schedules, logistics, etc.

Articulating these assumptions is necessary in order to make a decision. The board can question any of the assumptions, challenge them, seek verification, ask for stress testing using different assumptions, add additional assumptions, or accept them as given.

After the fact, the board can ask management to report on which assumptions held true (although, to be honest, I have seldom seen this happen.)

Everyone knows that only some of the assumptions will come true, but it is anticipated (and hoped) that variances from the listed assumptions...

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Governance in the News

Whenever I spot the words ‘governance’ or ‘board of directors’ in a headline, I automatically know the story will not be a positive one. As far as I can tell, no reporter has ever written a good news story about a board of directors.

Instead, governance stories in the news tend to focus on conflict, crisis and failure – shedding light on goings-on and machinations that were not meant to be in the public eye. However disturbing, these stories make fascinating case studies.

So today I’m going to take a look at two recent examples of board governance in the news. For our non-Canadian readers, I should mention that these concern two well-known Canadian organizations. As it happens, both are membership-based organizations.

I hope you find these case studies as thought-provoking as I did. As you read, give some thought as to what a Savvy Director might learn from them.

 

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC)

MEC is a consumers' cooperative that...

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Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen perform at a concert for President Obama in 2009. H. Darr Beiser, USA Today

“It is the hard days, the times that challenge you to your very core, that determine who you are.” Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook

 

‘Keep Your Eyes on the Prize’ is a song made famous by Pete Seeger on his 1963 album, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ It was played to keep spirits up during the 1960’s civil rights movement. Bruce Springsteen has also performed it, as have other artists. If you’re looking for inspiration, I encourage you to check out the YouTube links above.

Today it seems the phrase ‘Keep your eyes on the prize’ no longer conjures up thoughts of civil rights marches and citizen activism. Instead it has become part of the everyday lexicon of motivational speeches, whether business or personal.


Has Your Board Taken Its Eyes Off the Prize?

Over the past few months, numerous board discussions have reminded...

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