Combatting Information Asymmetry
At any NACD education program, the discussion of directorship as a part-time profession with full-time risks is bound to arise. Yet following any corporate crisis, the question is always asked: “Where was the board?” Outside of the C-suite and boardroom, many perceive that directors should be able to foresee and avoid a crisis before it strikes.
This perception is misguided for several reasons. As a result of legislative and regulatory activity, since the 1960s corporate boards have become increasingly independent of management. Although legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank mandated independence at specific committees, this has extended to the entire board. Today, most publicly held company boards comprise a majority of independent directors, and often the CEO is the only executive director.
The development of independent boards is not negative. In fact, it ensures that the board can effectively carry out its mission and responsibilities, and fairly hold management accountable to shareholders. However, there are a few consequences when directors are selected entirely for independence. Directorship, as noted above, is a part-time role. Inherently, directors rely on senior management for information necessary to carry out their oversight responsibilities. When outside directors are chosen for lack of ties to the corporation, they do not necessarily bring knowledge of the business or industry. Therefore, the benefit created by adding an independent director is largely tempered, as this outsider is reliant on the CEO for the information necessary to his or her oversight role.
To combat this risk of asymmetric information, NACD partnered with McGladrey to host four small gatherings of executives and directors in an effort to find ways of improving the communication and relationships between the board and C-suite. From these gatherings, the Bridging Effectiveness Gaps: A Candid Look at Board Practices white paper was created. As Bridging the Effectiveness Gaps notes, broadly, these gaps were found in the areas of strategy and risk, executive compensation, CEO succession planning, and board evaluations. By convening management and directors from different companies, the meetings fostered candid and open conversation regarding areas where communication tends to break down. However, where communication was generally the root of the problem, it was also the solution.
This report is available as a complimentary white paper on NACD’s Board Leaders’ Briefing Center.
 According to the 2012 Spencer Stuart U.S. Board Index.