In our work advising and conducting reviews for boards across many sectors and sizes, Chairs and Directors universally tell us there is room for material improvement in the way management engages with them. In almost all the Board Reviews we have undertaken areas to be addressed include board engagement: ranging from board reporting through to, for example how questions are answered in meetings.
Almost all Directors seem to agree that if management enhances and sharpens the way they engage with their board, it will lead to an uplift in the quality of discussion the board enjoys on the material issues brought forward by management, and will improve significantly the board’s capacity to do its job to make better quality decisions in a more timely fashion.
WRITING THE PAPER
Clear, concise, insightful
Effective engagement can be broken down into bundles of technical skills including writing and speaking clearly and concisely, however, to improve and excel consistently requires those vital skills as starting points, ‘hygiene factors’ if you will. They are the elements through which information is clearly converted into insights that enable the Board to make more effective decisions.
For example, effective reporting is a strategic extension of operational activity and information-gathering. This requires management to develop a strategic governance mindset and a capacity to challenge their own assumptions, anticipate Board member responses and think strategically, not just summarise one-dimensional operational inputs and append great swathes of data ‘in support’
MEETING THE BOARD
It's not about you
Ideally the Chairman invites you to articulate why you are there and what you are seeking from the board.
Directors have read your paper, and expect you to be able to summarise in 2-3 minutes. This is the opportunity for you to open the discussion and provide the board what it needs for a robust debate.
Q & A
if you can't explain it simply ...
Answering director questions concisely is an art. Brevity is good.
Directors will often ask a "warm up" question, followed by a more complex interrogative. Provide the information you have and the interpretations that you have prepared. Don't obfuscate. If you don't know, say so and explain how you'll get the answer (or not).
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Better quality board discussion and debate
Executives are in the boardroom to help the directors have a fully informed debate. The best boards will have a variety of perspectives on any matter and directors will happily dissent from each other to explore an issue fully.
Your role is to provide required content and when asked, your judgement or information to help generate a range of options for debate.