Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Transitioning into senior management – Part 11: reporting to a board of directors – 2

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on June 23, 2011

This is my eleventh installment in a series on joining senior management and the executive suite, and my second on working with and reporting to a board of directors (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 158-167.) I started that aspect to this more general discussion in Part 10 with a focus on how boards are organized and on how they function, according to their type with that determined according to a specific taxonomic model. I turn in this posting to the business year, and to seasonally organized reporting cycles, and with consideration of non-cyclical reporting.

• Businesses operate according to cyclical operational and reporting processes, with their cycles linked to the fiscal year and to seasonal peaks and troughs in their business levels and customer activity.
• Operations and strategic planning synchronize with and support these cycles, and operational and strategic management and the timing and pace of decisions made and followed through on reflect these cycles too.
• As such, when a board is diligently tracking business activities and results, a significant part of what they do will follow cyclical patterns too. As a working example for that, consider quarterly and annual financial reports and annual audits, and how the CEO and their executive team would prepare for reporting to the board on them, and how they do so.
• Non-cyclical events that would affect the organization as a whole would also generally be reported on.
• And boards can and do ask for information and insight they would need in order to understand marketplace trends and how the business they oversee is responding to them, and a range of other issues.

Understand the board you report to if you are a CEO. Picking up on the three taxonomic models cited in my posting above:

• If you take a CEO level leadership position as a new hire to an organization and the board you report to does not seem to be asking you for the information you see them as needing, or anything else you may be facing what has historically been a rubber stamp board. This sheds light on the style of leadership this business has been led by and its corporate culture, and it sheds light on the type of support and insight you can, or in this case cannot automatically assume from the board.
• If you find that you are dealing with a board that is always asking for more from you and your team, and with disconnected reasoning offered for these requests at most, you may be dealing with a ruggedly independent board. You need to understand where this pattern of board behavior comes from.
• If you are fortunate enough to be working with a strategically aligned board you will know that too, and a part of your working with them effectively is going to be in developing a mutually understood and agreed to strategic alignment with them, where you and your board at the very least understand each other as to overall goals and priorities, and the steps needed to reach them.

You may report to your board, but you can and should seek to influence them too, and to inform them on the issues you see as most important to work with them on, and why. And remember that even a would-be strategically aligned board cannot function as such if you as the CEO do not effectively communicate with them to develop a sustaining and mutually acceptable alignment with them.

This leaves me with the non-cyclical issues that can and should come to a board’s attention, and that a CEO and their team have to work with the board on. My most important point here is that surprises are never really a good idea when working with a board. You never want your board members to first find out about an issue that you should have brought to their attention, on the morning news or from their newspapers. You do not want to have to explain to them how something they should have been involved in dealing with, first caught their attention on the Huffington Post or some other online news and opinion source.

• Prioritize what you share with your board as the people on it are all busy and with multiple other responsibilities to juggle.
• But proactively reach out to them with the information that they need, and certainly where that information is not cyclically predictable as coming due.
• Really knowing the members of your board and helping them to know and understand you is a key to making this work in practice, and knowing their areas of professional interest and expertise can help you determine which board members to share what level and types of detail with – and certainly where the board has an appropriately tasked committee in place for the issues at hand.

I am going to turn in my next installment in this series to discussion of the challenges and pitfalls of having one person serve as both CEO and Board Chair.

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