Digitise or Rethink?

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One of the recent trends in modern corporations concerned with efficiency, carbon footprints and sustainability is replacing the traditional printed board pack (the large number of pages a Board member is required to read and review prior to an upcoming board meeting) with a digitized version.

According to one of the leaders in this fast growing industry of cutting out excess printing and paper waste at the Board level, digitization of board of director’s reading is a real revolution with numerous benefits. The benefits, from reduced cost to increased speed, include reducing the time (and people) required to prepare, print, collate, mail or courier monthly board pack from days to hours. Besides eliminating paper, electronic and digitized board packs can be accessed at anytime on mobile and tablet platforms as well. They are easier to carry around, secure, can be easily disposed of and kept from prying eyes, and in some cases can even be highlighted and annotated by individual board members for subsequent group discussion. And as mobile and digital technology advances, so will the efficiency of these new digital board papers.

But Faster Waste is Still Waste

I have two major problems with the headlong rush into digitized Board Packs.

Problem 1:  Too big to read and digest  While this new format may be digital and not papers-300x232paper (saving CO2 emissions and cutting trees, printing and the cost of ink and couriers), most board packs are still several hundred pages long!  That’s a lot of reading to get through, especially for busy executives who either have a full-time job leading a business or are retired and on multiple boards. Most of these people don’t even have time for recreational or pleasure reading, let alone a mostly boring tomb of 200 pages, complete with charts and graphs and spreadsheets.  And what makes it even more revolting is that 85-90% of the information in a monthly board pack is exactly the same as the previous month.

As a result the fact is (even with best intentions), most Board Directors skim read the board pack, and just spend quality time on the sections relevant to them in their role on the board (audit committee, risk committee, remuneration committee, succession committee, etc.). Not really a well-informed board!

Problem 2:  Little Real Information on Strategy Execution

While the majority of board papers have a section on the overall business strategy, and of course the current financial and legal information, there is normally very little information on how the business is actually delivering on longer term strategic initiatives. The future of the business lies in delivering these strategic initiatives that will ultimately turn into greater revenue and market share. But in most cases the board is purposefully excluded from such operational issues.  Big mistake since this is the future of the company.

I am assuming, and mostly rightly based on experience, that members of the board have considerable experience in executing strategies and delivering strategic initiatives.  And this assumption then brings up the uncomfortable question:  Just what is the role of the board?

Are they there only to advise on strategy development and to approve overall strategy, or to oversee execution as well?  Poor strategy execution is one of the key reasons for business failures, and the firing of CEOs.  Why should knowledgable business experts like board members not follow strategy execution closely and provide advice and guidance, especially when execution is failing or critical strategic initiatives are in danger of failing?  These are (hopefully) experienced business leaders and not just window dressing.

Time For A Rethink: Board Dashboards

Rather than just digitize an outdated process, the board pack, why not rethink the whole thing?  Why not start with the premise that strategy execution is not just the responsibility of the operating executives, but that effective strategy execution and delivery is a key responsibility of the board of directors.  And then why not build a digital, visual dashboard with hyperlinked access points for more information to replace the 200-page mind-numbing board pack?  And why not make it interactive so board members can share ideas and insights with each other to help the company?  A set of board of directors monthly dashboards would also get these busy individuals more engaged in the company and able to spend greater quality time helping the company deliver.

And as long as we are rethinking the board pack, why not have the board reviewing other leading indicators of business health, like culture, employee engagement, involuntary turnover. And why not bring in rising young executives into board meetings to acquaint the board with the next generation of leaders?

There are so many creative ways to get even more from this important group of business leaders and experts.  Why saddle them with hundreds of pages to read?

pig-lipstick-200x233A perfumed pig is still a pig, and fetches the same price per pound. But transforming it into bacon and sausage is where the real value lies.

Let’s rethink board processes to unlock even greater value.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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One Response to Digitise or Rethink?

  1. Robert Mintz says:

    BRAVO!!!!! I could NOT agree more!

    Like

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