Why We Do What We Do

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A recent meeting with NACD Chair Reatha Clark King has revealed some compelling thoughts on why good corporate governance matters and why we at NACD do what we do. 

Over the last 37 years, NACD has researched, documented, and published leading boardroom practices including Blue Ribbon Commission reports, handbooks, white papers, and surveys. Our intent is to advance exemplary board leadership.

As I dug into the question of why we do what we do with directors who serve on NACD’s board, I used a classic marketing approach to define higher order, emotional benefits. A benefit-oriented discussion enables one to organize responses into a pyramid-shaped format. Product attributes serve as the foundation and subsequent perspectives provide product and end benefits, ultimately leading to emotional benefits. Capturing the emotional essence enables one to develop a sustainable, differentiated position.

When I asked the “why we do” question, I received responses such as:

  • To help directors make better decisions
  • To ensure that the perspectives of all stakeholders are heard
  • To do the best job I can
  • To represent the shareholder
  • To increase the value of the enterprise

While these responses are appropriate, there was an obvious follow-up question: “Well, why does that matter?” It reminded me of conducting in-home ethnography research and one-on-one interviews when I was in marketing at Kraft Foods–sessions that were typically enjoyable for me, but a bit painful for the participant.

The culmination of responses to “why we do what we do” can be summarized in two remarkably simple bullet points:

  • Enterprise sustainability
  • Stakeholder confidence

To me, this perspective is both impactful and relevant. First, the answers are brief and to the point. Second, each bullet point contains what I would describe as a lightning rod word–sustainability and stakeholder–and each of these words can have a variety of meanings depending on the audience.

Enterprise sustainability means, quite simply, that the company is around for a long time. An enduring enterprise provides long-term benefits to its employees and their families, to suppliers and vendors, to the community in which it operates, and to those who provide financing–bankers, investors, and donors. Further, enterprise sustainability means that the leaders of companies, both in the boardroom and the C-suite, remain aware of current and emerging issues that may impact these companies, and are engaged in robust dialogue about strategic implications. I call this strategic agility.

As a result, stakeholder confidence is established, reinforced, and bolstered.  Regardless of how a company is structured–public, private, nonprofit, mutual, or family owned–all enterprises have stakeholders, and the long-term viability of the enterprise is overseen by a board of directors.

Therefore, everything that NACD does–from our NACD Directorship 2020® initiative to our expanding range of events, resources, and services–provides unique value to NACD members to advance exemplary board leadership. The intended outcome of all of our activity is NACD members who demonstrate a commitment to not only continuously learning, but also demonstrating the courage to question the unknown and working to sharpen their strategic agility. Once this is achieved, NACD members are poised to help create sustainable enterprises and bolster stakeholder confidence.

I welcome your feedback on this topic. Please join me in sharing your views of why we do what we do.

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