Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, serving on and leading a board of directors – 13: negotiating and boards

Posted in book recommendations, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on October 2, 2011

This is my thirteenth installment on joining and working on a board of directors (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 179-190), and as I indicated at the end of Part 12: mentors and mentorship:

• Effective board members are continuously negotiating, and both with fellow board members and with the CEO and members of their executive team.

I would begin this discussion by citing a set of books that I have found to be of particular value for general information and insight into negotiations and the negotiating process:

• Ury, William. (1991) Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. Penguin Books.
• Ury, William. (1993) Getting Past No: negotiating in difficult situations. Bantam Books.
• Ury, William. (1997) The Power of Positive No: how to say no and still get to yes. Random House.

I strongly recommend reading and thinking through these books, and if you only select one of them for background reading, I would recommend Getting Past No as a good starting point. And I cite a particular detail you can find there or in the other two books – a process that Ury refers to as “going to the balcony.”

The basic idea in going to the balcony is that you go past the emotionality of a negotiation and that you seek to remain open and more objective – as if you were stepping out of the room to catch a breath of fresh air from a balcony. And I add that a balcony is used as a metaphor here because looking at a negotiation more objectively always involves stepping to a point where you can see more of what is going on and from a wider perspective, here as if you were looking down on the negotiation as a whole from a higher vantage point.

• You do not have to be in complete agreement with other members of a board you are on and you do not have to be in complete agreement with the CEO of the business you are on the board of – at least you do not always have to agree, all of the time and on every detail.
• There are going to be real problems, however, if you are always or even just frequently find yourself in disagreement and particularly where this involves disagreements over core issues of business practice, or of values.
• Negotiations enter in for the gray area between those extremes, in understanding and clarifying positions and their underlying reasoning, and in finding mutually agreeable resolutions where disagreements or misunderstandings are arising.

I stress at this point that as a member of a board of directors, you do not lead this business, even if that is your more usual role in your own business, where you primarily work. You advise, and this distinction is very important, and both in working with other board members and company executives, and in maintaining a more dispassionate and objective perspective – and particularly if and when you find yourself in disagreement over an issue that you see as important.

Advising and mentoring, and negotiating go hand in hand here and both sides of that gain strength as you develop a reputation, and both for offering sage and effective advice and as you gain a reputation for listening.

As a final thought here, I note that decisions made should effectively support the strategic and operational plans and the business model and values of the business that you are on the board for. That should be the gold standard in your mind as you think through issues and possible points of disagreement. Pick any battles that you do enter into with care and with a mental orientation aimed towards more effectively offering advice that supports that business. And negotiate.

I add that the possibility of following this approach breaks down for members of rubber stamp board or ruggedly independent boards (see my board taxonomy model for definitions) and only can be fully applied for strategically aligned boards. That is because it is only in more effectively organized, strategically aligned boards and the executive teams of companies that support them, where you will consistently find the potential for genuine, two way discussion and negotiations.

I am going to switch directions in my next series installment and turn to the issues and challenges of interviewing and vetting a prospective new CEO.

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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