Sunday, June 7, 2009

Understand Systemic Deficiencies that hamper Effective Decision Making. Address the root causes of Boardroom problems.


When confronted with a Boardroom problem, the usual inclination on the part of members is to search for quick fixes. For example, if a Board member acts as a rebel, attacks Board decisions after they are made, and violates confidentiality, there may be an instinctive desire to remove the person from the Board. Such an intervention may indeed tackle the immediate problem, but unless the root causes are addressed, the same situation may repeat itself at some future time.

To address the root causes of Boardroom problems, you need to shift your focus from problematic personal behaviors to systemic deficiencies that serve as nutrients for such behaviors. The root causes of the rebel problem may be the following systemic deficiencies:

 A Lack of a Compelling Sense of Collective Purpose. For example, there may be no mission, vision, and strategic plan, or—if they exist—they may not be adhered to. As a result, the work of the Board may be mediocre and uninspiring. This lack of a compelling collective drive makes room for individual drives (sometimes misguided) to emerge and dominate.

 A Lack of Knowledge and Skill to Make Quality Decisions. Such a deficiency can shift discussions away from logic, objectivity, and professionalism to emotion and hype. A proposal may win not on its merit but on the passion displayed by its rebel proponent.

 A Lack of Mentors and Role Models. Without principled leaders who effectively act as the organization’s conscience and compass, there are no barriers to stop assertive yet misguided members from taking center stage.

 A Culture of Entitlement and Self-Interest. The culture of the Board should promote the interests of the organization as a whole. If the Board is instead immersed in a culture of entitlement and self-interest, members focus on themselves and compete for power and control.

 Weak Selection Processes. For example, Board members may be selected on the basis that no one else is available for the job. They are not advised of the required commitment and of the Board’s code of conduct before their nomination or selection.

 Weak or Nonexistent Board Orientation or Training Programs. Such programs would emphasize—among other things—the duties to balance individual initiative with teamwork, keep Board confidentiality, adhere to conflict of interest guidelines, place collective interests ahead of narrow ones, and avoid undermining validly made Board decisions. Without such rules of interaction in place and without them being reinforced and monitored regularly, there is a good likelihood that rebels will violate them.

 A Lack of Feedback and Evaluation. Board members may be afraid to confront others and give them honest and constructive feedback on counterproductive behaviors. As a result, they may talk about rebels instead of talking to them. In addition, there may be no regular evaluations of Board members, the Board Chair, the Board as a whole, and the CEO.

 A Lack of Trust and Respect for the Board from the Community That It Serves. Such a deficiency tends to generate support for dissenting members and fuel their sometimes misguided causes.

 A lack of protocol for meetings. People speak whenever they want, and no effort is made to equalize the opportunities to participate. As a result, rebel members can take over.

These and other systemic deficiencies must be addressed proactively. There should be organized efforts to establish a solid foundation for Board decision making. Such efforts will reinforce the Board’s immune system and deprive dysfunctions of the nutrients they need to thrive.



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