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.

A Fork in the Road - The Director's Role in Strategy

It’s important for an organization to have clear goals. Goals are where the organization wants to end up, but it needs a strategy to get there. If the goal is the destination, then its strategy is the travel plan.

When faced with a fork in the road, a travel plan answers the question Which road should we take? And it answers many other questions too, such as Which routes will we avoid? What vehicle will we use? How fast will we travel? Who will navigate? Who will be along for the ride? And how much will we spend?

So, if the organization’s strategy is like its travel plan, what kinds of questions does it answer? Keep reading to find out.


The Savvy Director’s Focus

It seems that every board of directors suffers from a time crunch. There is rarely enough time to get through a meeting agenda without rushing through the last few items. As a consequence, boards need to make sure they spend their limited time focused in the right areas.

Which areas? Strategy, people,...

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Diversity and Inclusion in the Boardroom

It feels like now is the right time to write about board diversity and inclusion. As always in these Savvy Director™ blog posts, we’ll eventually guide the conversation to how an individual board director might approach this topic in the boardroom.

This week, I asked Alice Sayant, co-founder of DirectorPrep.com™, to share her views on the topic.

 

Alice’s thoughts on board diversity and inclusion

First of all, let me say that I believe board diversity and inclusion are important subjects for our consideration because, if we believe in social justice, it’s just the right thing to do. If the word justice implies fairness, then social justice is the concept of fairness as it manifests in society – including equal opportunity for participation in societal and economic institutions like corporate boards.

The four essential goals of social justice – human rights, access, participation, and equity – are important personal values for me,...

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Self-Care for the Stressed-Out Director

I received some interesting comments in response to the last Savvy Director™ blog on the topic of resilient leadership. This one below really got me thinking about a director’s need for self-care in the face of stress and worry about the organizations they oversee.

“I hope leaders, even if resilient, do not view themselves as invincible. They and their boards have to ask themselves ... how can I stay whole? How can I help others do the same? If we do not tend our ‘own gardens’ we may find ourselves withered, dry, or simply dead. Worst of all - dead but still in the job.”

Self-care is any activity that we do to take care of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Good self-care is key to improved mood, reduced anxiety, and positive relationships. Although I’m no expert on the subject, I do appreciate and try to practice positive behaviors such as eating well, getting my beauty sleep, exercising and meditating.

But what does...

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Got my hair cut. Now what?

“I can get my hair cut today!”

Hey, it's a very real thing for people who have hair available to cut. Getting a haircut is one of the early reliefs coming out of restrictions being lifted. A return to normal, something customers can control.

Your hair stylist or barber is glad to see you, and glad to be seen by you. Your stylist’s business is fortunate. As long as you have hair, I’m pretty sure you will return to your previous habit of regular haircuts.

That got me to thinking about customer behavior as our economy re-opens. The impetus for organizations to ‘change back better’ will fade if we are able to just return to the way things used to be. Is that a good thing?


To Change or Not to Change

As a board director, my hunch is that when returning to the old way of doing things is easy, it will stifle the recent spate of innovations and many of the creative ideas that had been placed on the drawing board. I can sense that this is already...

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"What do I need to know about risk?"

How should a board of directors be spending its time and energy? When I serve on boards, I make sure there is plenty of room on our agendas to regularly spend time on four key topics: finance, people, strategy, and risk. I refer to these collectively as The Savvy Director’s Focus.

Board directors don’t need to be experts in these areas, but we should all have at least a basic understanding of them. And so, today’s blog focuses on what a board director needs to know about risk.

For many of us, risk is top of mind these days as our organizations struggle with the impact of COVID-19. But the board's risk oversight role is not a one-time event. Thinking about risk management as a matter of course, in quieter times, gives an organization a leg-up when it comes to responding to an unanticipated event like a pandemic.

 

What is risk?

Risk is defined as the potential for uncontrolled loss of something of value. For an organization, a risk is something that could...

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Grateful to Serve


I recently woke up at 3:00 AM with my mind racing about the upcoming board meeting scheduled for later that day via video conference.

As I lay in bed, I heard Fergus, our 15-year-old Scottish terrier, snoring away on the floor beside our bed. It would not be long before his 5:30 AM wake-up bark telling me he wanted to go outside. I needed to get back to sleep.

That day’s upcoming board meeting was the culprit that was keeping me awake. As a volunteer on a government agency board, I was aware that lots was going on. The government had announced impending funding cuts across all agencies to help pay for COVID-19 expenses. There was no clear direction to help us determine what to preserve and what to prune. The management team and the staff were understandably wary about layoffs, and we had fearful clients not knowing whether there would be funding available to continue their work.

With a board comprised of current and new government appointees, board leadership was unsure what...

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Bridging the (Board) Divide

Many boards have been functioning well these past weeks, but others have become divided over the important issues that are now confronting them.

More than a few Savvy Director readers have described situations where sharp divisions have developed around the board table while dealing with significant decisions arising from the pandemic. These are not just cases where one or two directors disagree with the majority. They are situations where the board is split 60/40 or 50/50 on sensitive, significant and urgent issues.

There are so many issues and questions that have arisen. Some examples are:

  • Staff layoffs.
  • Executing funding cuts – should cuts be targeted or across the board?
  • Whether to proceed with previously approved capital projects - could the money be better spent?
  • Charitable donations and community support – yes or no? Doesn’t charity begin at home? And which organizations should be supported?
  • Is our company a fundamentally sound business that simply does...
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Where you stand depends on where you sit


A recent email from one of our Savvy Director™ readers got me thinking about how diversity of experience actually influences the opinions and viewpoints that we bring to board discussions, as well as the decisions that we end up making.

It’s taken for granted these days that diversity at the board table is a good thing and that it contributes to more robust discussions and better decisions. But how does this actually occur? Especially in the light of board discussions with management about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on business.

I’ve paraphrased our reader’s comments below:

I’m curious about the experience of boards in the current environment where directors coming at the impacts of COVID-19 on the organization vary greatly based on the industry or sector they come from.

For example, there are those who may be from a sector that is experiencing significant layoffs and is not considered to be an essential service. And others who are focused on...

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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,

...

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Board Dynamics in a Virtual World

As I attend more and more virtual board meetings, I can’t help wondering about the effect on board dynamics.

In brief, board dynamics refers to the way that individual board directors interact with each other. You can see a board’s dynamics through the language that directors use, how they constructively challenge and debate each other, and the way they make decisions.

When I think about board dynamics, it reminds me that a board of directors is a group of human beings, not just a collection of rules and processes. To quote a recent article by Meena Thuraisingham in the Australian Institute of Company Directors magazine,

“The process of governing does not occur in a social vacuum.”

Every board takes on the collective personality of its members. This plays out in the behaviors, routines and social norms that the board develops. It contributes to the expectations – whether stated or unstated – that every board member tries to understand and live...

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