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Chief Engagement Officer and the Engagement Oversight Committee

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Don't forget to sparkle

 A recent blog by British twitter maven Lucy Marcus got me thinking about where new thinking and fresh strategy comes from. Lucy rightly points out that new beginnings take time and that, in this cost-conscious era, there is a risk that no company has the patience to sew seeds and give them time to grow. We’ll call this impatience, and certainly it is a failing that often besets the super-bright who are restless company executives, and their peripatetic counterparts who become board members.

There are other stumbling blocks in the way of innovation too, and chief amongst them is information overload. At NACD’s recent Investor Insights Roundtable , Denny Beresford revealed that he had seen proxy statements that were longer than the 10-K. Anne Sheehan, director of corporate governance for CalSTRs, concurred. “Don’t send me the charter; I can read that for myself,” she pleaded, making a request for only critical information, presented in a concise and accessible form.  As all of us know, too much information can be as bad as too little. Swamp your readers and they’ll find it all too easy to miss your point.

But there is one shortfall that always stands in the way of progress for fresh thinking, and that is lack of imagination. Too few C-suites, committees and other information providers really think about the message they wish to convey, and ways to engage the audience they seek. The best teachers understand that without engagement, there is no education. Information is passed and knowledge is gained through story-telling, entertaining experiences that stick in the mind, and the thoughtful paring down of data and equally thoughtful pumping up of passion, color and context. These are skills and approaches that have value in every area of life, business and governance. They should not be confined to the classroom.

 At NACD’s Director Professionalism® course in Deer Valley, UT last week,

Deer Valley, UT

 our engagement quotient was high: Richard Levick discussed crisis planning at the board level, using the miserable face of an oil-soaked shag and the equally miserable face of former BP CEO Tony Hayward to make his key points; Rob Galford, compensation chair at Forrester Research, used his physical presence and party tricks (“point your finger in the air. Now, on the count of three, point it at the spokesperson in your group”) to drive home some interesting thoughts on performance metrics; and Charles Elson, a director on the board of HealthSouth corporation, used catch phrases (“Don’t be sleazy; Don’t be sloppy”) to help more than 60 directors grasp the essence of the Duty of Loyalty and the Duty of Care.

All of this leads me to an interesting opportunity for washed-up television producers such as myself: We should position ourselves as Chief Engagement Officers for corporations prone to boring their boards to death. We could be creative conduits, taking the dry, dense and dusty and turning it into presentations worthy of prime-time. Similarly, all boards should look for comedians down on their luck, children’s book illustrators with a gift for detail that captivates, and song and dance acts capable of rhyming “audit” with either “plaudit” or “sod it.” Once identified, this rag-tag group should form an Engagement Oversight Committee with advisory status to the board. This EOC would work alongside the GC and reshape anything terminally turgid into a director’s delight. It would solve an unemployment problem in the entertainment sector, and would greatly enhance not only board meetings, but also board, company and stock performance. It might also offer an interesting second career opportunity for burned out teachers…

 If you sleep at night surrounded by spreadsheets and with PowerPoint as your pillow, urge your company to consider this engagement initiative, and soon you’ll look forward to board meetings: We put the “Glee” in governance.

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