Board Chair & CEO

 Boards Must Create Time & Space

by: Eric W. Curtis

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The pace of change is accelerating and as a result, our ability to devote time to planning for the future is diminishing. In an effort to “hold the ship together”, organizations are finding themselves addressing issues as they arise. As such, those in Leadership roles are spending their time working IN the company, leaving little time to work ON the company.

While many have been able to piece things together thus far, organizations are now seeing the need to step back and look at how to structure their time in order to meet future demands.

This is where the Board of Directors can help. The role of a governing Board of Directors is to create the necessary time and space to work ON the company so that organizations can be intentional about how they want to shape their future.

Typically, Board meetings consist of listening to organizational updates that have occurred since the previous meeting, and making decisions on initiatives that will be implemented leading into the next meeting. 

But where is the balance between oversight/governance and strategy? How do Boards consistently help the CEO drive strategy? How is the time and opportunity to build relevancy and viability in the years ahead provided? And how can Boards change the way they operate in order to ensure this happens?

One of the key reasons organizations have a Board of Directors, is the function they serve in task managing complexity over a long period of time. 

Organizations need this objective view from the Board as well as from individuals that understand the industry or sector landscape, the potential threats that exist, and the opportunities for ensuring the company remain viable and relevant.

The Board of Directors can create time and space following 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Identify all discussions and decisions that occur throughout the year that would fall into the Oversight/Governance category. These are the topics that fulfill the fiduciary oversight of the Board. These topics include, but are not limited to: budget approval, auditors report, annual meeting, committee reports, and CEO report.

Step 2: Identify the topics that require planning and advance discussion. This consists of strategy items such as: strategic planning, investment proposals, merger strategy, risk management, talent review, and educational opportunities for the Board regarding major trends. These are topics that look ahead to the future and support planning in the years to come.

Step 3: Build an annual agenda for the Board with every meeting divided in to equal parts oversight (50%) and strategy and planning (50%).  Presently, many Boards of Directors allocate their time around the oversight topics very well, but do not provide opportunity for strategy and planning discussion and decision making. Being able to anticipate when the Board will need to review an audit verses planning for future acquisitions, are both critical topics that need proper time allotment.

Board meeting agendas, both annual and monthly, are the #1 tool for controlling time and opportunity. The agendas dictate the time to work on the “As-Is” and “To-Be” as well as the oversight and future planning. Without changing the way Boards operate, meetings will continue to focus on organizational updates and committee presentations. There is too much risk in this rapidly changing landscape to ignore the need to plan for the future.

It is the responsibility of the Board Chair and the CEO to collaboratively shape the Board Agendas. The more the agendas can be structured annually to balance both oversight and strategy, the more engaged, informed, and productive a Board of Directors will be. Boards must support and encourage companies to look as far forward into the future as possible, and to ask the right questions questions to drive planning.

 

Top 3 Methods for Building the Board Chair & CEO Power Team

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The strength of the relationship between the Board Chair and CEO is directly related to the strength and success of an organization and its governance. At Curtis Strategy we have identified three key methods for improving the relationship between the Board Chair and CEO in order to build the power team.

Build Shared Vision
Prior to creating a plan for the future, there must first be a vision. Without it, there is no clear direction or end goal. Vision represents the idea, passion, drive, and journey that the Board Chair & CEO plan to embark on with the organization. In many cases, it will also determine who follows. Both leaders must think and act cohesively, verses having individual agendas. When there is shared understanding between both leaders they can craft a vision for how they want to lead the organization and Board of Directors as they move forward. 

As General Gordon Sullivan (Fr. Army Chief of Staff) states in his book, Hope is not a Method, “There are no hard-and-fast rules for what your organization’s vision should look like. The critical test is not length or grammatical construction.  The critical test is fit.  A vision must fit the organization for which it was created, and it must be empowering, providing both the leader and the led a tool that can translate into strategy and action that result in real growth and change. The vision must pull the organization into the future.”

The Board Chair and CEO should always strive towards the same vision, methodology and outcomes as a cohesive team. When they co-create plans, approaches, and problem solve together, it strengthens the bonds of trust, respect, and teamwork.

Communicate Effectively
The #1 rule for the Board Chair and CEO relationship is to have No Surprises! When the Board Chair and CEO trust each other, operate from a shared vision, and communicate effectively, there will be complete transparency. It can be both embarrassing and upsetting to receive unanticipated information during a Board meeting. This situation sends a negative message to other Board members that there is a division in the Team. 

To avoid being unprepared and surprised, both the Board Chair and CEO should meet or speak on a regular basis. These discussions should be structured in a manner that will prevent them from becoming formalities. There are two planning tools available to Leaders that will provide structure for their discussions: the Strategic Plan and the Board Agenda.

The Strategic Plan provides context for how the organization is going to move forward and the outcomes required to achieve goals. The Board Agenda ensures the Board is being engaged around supporting and aligning decision making to the Strategic Plan. 

The Board Chair and CEO should speak once a week to discuss shaping the agenda, utilizing committees, future agendas, governance need, organization need, and problem solving. To effectively achieve their shared vision, not only does this power team need to communicate effectively, but they must also organize and plan.

Plan & Organize
The most important contribution anyone can add to an organization is their time, and a Board Member’s time is an incredibly valuable asset. People tend to volunteer their time where their talents are best utilized and they feel they can add the most amount of value. It is the role of the Board Chair and CEO to orchestrate how to manage and deploy that time.

Have you ever experienced being a part of a Board Meeting where you felt you were not engaged or had little to contribute? Avoiding this is the responsibility of The Board Chair and CEO. The Board’s time must be managed through board meetings, committees, and other engagement opportunities. The Board agenda is a powerful tool to be able to create engaging discussions, participation, and decision making. 

Using an innovative approach to crafting an agenda is the #1 way to maximize each Board Member’s time, efforts, and talents. 

It can not be said enough that the strength of the Board Chair and CEO relationship will lead to success for the organization. Both leaders can synchronize governance and operations to move in tandem towards fulfilling the strategic goals and desired outcomes. If you would like more information regarding our Board Agenda Solution please contact us.