Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, serving on and leading a board of directors – 9: working with the CEO and their executive team

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on September 12, 2011

This is my ninth posting in a series on joining and serving on a board of directors (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 179-186) and my second to focus on issues of time constraints and work loads. In Part 8: time commitments, responsibilities and maintaining focus I discussed issues and considerations that a board member or prospective board member should consider as they plan their own schedules. Here, my focus is on the time and effort that board activities and board requests place on the CEO and their executive team. In part this is a matter of due diligence in understanding the type of board that you might be serving on and in that respect the levels and complexities, and the effectiveness of board activities and board requests sent to the CEO and their team vary depending on the type of board. Here, by type, I mean where it would fit into the basic board taxonomy that I have offered in my posting: Boards of Directors and Corporate Culture and Strategy.

Rubber Stamp boards do not generally make many demands on the time or workload of the CEO and their executive team. And in fact some rubber stamp boards in effect never actually ask for much of anything in the way of information resources that they would need to have if they were to actually perform board-related due diligence. If it looks like a board you would join does not ask for anything, or at least anything that you would see as necessary for them to have in order to provide honest, candid third party assessment, that should be seen as a warning.

Ruggedly independent boards ask for way too much, and CEOs and their executive teams often come to a point in that where they preemptively data dump on their board – both preemptively increasing their own workload and that of their board’s members. This, I add is all busy work and the right documents and information are often never asked for or received. So for all of the activity, these boards can be in essentially the same position as a rubber stamp board as far as gaining access to the information and processed knowledge they would need to do their jobs effectively.

This leaves me with the third basic board model that I like to refer to in my business assessments, and that I include in my board taxonomy – the strategically aligned board. A good board can place significant demands for information and for labeled analysis on the CEO and their executive team and certainly at key periods in the business year cycle, or in periods of unexpected change or transition. But information requests made are made with a reason, and one that would make sense to both board and executive suite members.

I add, referring back to a phrase I just used, “labeled analysis,” that boards need to know precisely when and where they are receiving if not raw, at least unbiased data and when they are receiving pre-digested and perhaps biased analysis instead. This is important as there are gray areas in what a board asks for and receives where perhaps opinion forming and swaying analysis might not always be easy to distinguish from less processed information – unless you have access to both which board members do not always have. Boards need to know the business or organization they are board to, and they need to understand how the CEO and their executive teams view matters too, and their operational and strategic thinking and planning that would be based on that. But they need to see what the executive suite is looking at too, in enough detail to be able to do some of their own analysis too.

In a real sense this is about time use, but it is also about information access. Board members need to consider both, and from both their own perspectives and from the perspectives of the executive suite members they work with and rely upon – and who in turn rely on them.

My next installment in this series is going to turn to the issues of leading a board of directors, and more generally of serving as a board officer.

I have been posting on the general topic area of jobs and careers to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development directory. I have recently started a second, continuation page to that directory at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and you will be able to find this and subsequent series on jobs and careers there.

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