It’s the “Dumb Questions” That Can Save The Company

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Karen Kane provides CEOs and boards with strategic counsel in developing effective shareholder engagement programs, board agendas, board assessments and more effective board meetings. A former board secretary and former highest-ranking woman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, she attended NACD’s Director Professionalism course in Houston, TX, in early May.

It’s the Dumb Questions That Can Save the Company

Wayne Shaw encourages directors to ask “dumb questions” when it comes to reviewing the financials of any company. The Helmut Sohmen Distinguished Professor of Corporate Governance at Southern Methodist University notes that it is sometimes the question that wasn’t asked that gives directors insight into assessing the integrity of the firm’s financials. His presentation was part of NACD’s Director Professionalism® course in Houston, May 4-6.

Rather than getting caught up in the minutia, directors should ask management, “Are we on track to meet our financial goals and if not, what is the company doing about it?” He encourages directors to ask the CFO if the CFO is comfortable with the financial demands of the CEO, and to ask, “Is there pressure to make the numbers?”

Directors should ask internal auditors if they have any concerns with accounting or reporting issues. In following up with the external auditors, directors should ask how the company differs from others in the industry? What weaknesses did they find? How aggressive is the company’s accounting policies relative to the competition? And, is management responsive to the issues they raise?

Shaw cited chapter and verse of well known companies whose directors didn’t ask the basic questions. Asking some obvious questions would have saved millions of dollars of shareholders’ investments and sometimes the company itself.

See dates and locations for upcoming Director Professionalism courses.

1 Comment

  • Mark Guay says:

    Ron Heifitz, Professor at Harvard University, refers to it as getting off the dance floor and onto the balcony. Adaptive leadership challenges require a broader look at patterns of behavior – such as observing people dancing on the dance floor versus being on the dance floor dancing. The questions are fundamentally different. It also can avoid costly assumptions by just confirming basic information first. So I would agree with you albeit perhaps using a different metaphor. I simply would rephrase it slightly as asking what “OTHERS MAY CONSIDER” a dumb question. And we all know that ad hominem attacks are usually someones first line of attack when they, for no other reason, simply do not like your question.