Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Stockholder meetings, annual board meetings and annual meetings best practices 3 – actualizing transparency and accountability as core values

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 11, 2012

This is my third installment in a series on corporate and organizational meetings that by their very nature serve as more public interfaces too – and windows into the operations and practices of that business (see Part 1: starting a new series and Part 2: a case study example.

I outlined a basic and even generic model of what is included in these meetings and how their basic component parts are more commonly organized in Part 1 and included there some brief notes as to the basic, general goals that a business or organization should seek to achieve when facing the public. Then in Part 2, I outlined and at least briefly discussed a negative example that I witnessed once as to how not to hold public-facing business meetings, and with a goal of facilitating discussion of positive best practices for doing better. With the basic model of what should be included in these meetings and a negative role model of how not to conduct them, I turn back to the basic overall objectives that should come out of these meetings. And as a starting point for that, I briefly reiterate the core goals as initially touched upon in Part 1.

Public meetings are intended to inform, and both shareholders and other explicit stakeholders, and the public in general. But the primary function of a public facing meeting such as a stockholders or annual meeting is to publically show and establish a valid, genuine sense of transparency and openness on issues of good business practice and business ethics. These meetings, if they accomplish nothing else, should palpably demonstrate honest reliability and integrity. And in this, it is impossible for a business’ executives or board to bring better out of an annual meeting or other public meeting than they bring into it.

Begin with the business practices and culture in place and prepare for these meetings from that. Openness and transparency, and accountability cannot simply appear at an annual meeting. If nothing else, that should be the lesson from the failed meeting I presented as a case study in Part 2. These qualities can only make sense and appear genuine if their display at the meeting represents the ongoing day to day of how that business has been operating all along. So in a real sense this posting is by title, about an endpoint of what should be an ongoing and consistently followed practice. And my goal in the balance of this posting and of this series as a whole is to discuss what must precede the opening gavel.

And I start with a point of clarification. Most if not all businesses collect, produce, manage and store confidential information and of multiple varieties and degrees of sensitivity. This data trove and the responsibility it conveys need to be safeguarded and all such information maintained as confidential. That is not what I write of here. In this series, the sole topic is basic business practice and the ethical standard to which it does or does not adhere to in practice. And I propose what could be considered a simple-in-principle ground rule for how to proceed.

• As an employee, manager or executive and at whatever level or position in the organization or as a board member – act as if your decisions and their consequences would face the spotlight of full public scrutiny.

Consider the bonus decisions that I cited as an area of detail in my financial institution case study example of Part 2. The executives who made that core decision to reward their collective failure in January when they could not do so in December, and with board approval to do that was expected to remain hidden. Would those retention bonuses have been awarded or accepted if the people who were responsible for those decisions had known up-front that the world would see what they had done? Would they have made those same choices if they had known that they would be the topic of discussion throughout the upcoming annual meeting before the stockholders and beyond them for the general public? If in doubt, ask how a decision would fair in the face of open, public scrutiny. And with the impact of our increasingly invasive interconnected online presence, and with so many channels for sharing information, news and opinion of all types and from any and all sources, if it is decided upon and acted on, word of it will get out.

I am going to turn in my next installment to the preparation that should go into and precede a public-facing meeting such as a shareholders or annual meeting. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and others of the series at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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