Tag Archive: NACD Directorship Forum

Problem-Finding: A Vital Board Skill

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Solange Charas is the president of Charas Consulting, Inc. and a senior-level human capital professional with 20-plus years of experience as corporate CHRO and consulting firm practice director. She is currently pursuing her doctor of management at Case Western Reserve. She has served as the chair of the remuneration committee for a NASDAQ-traded company.

Michael Roberto, author of Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen, shared his insights with the 200 directors who attended last week’s NACD Directorship Forum in NYC. He explained why it makes more sense to concentrate on “problem- finding” than “problem-solving.” Practicing problem-finding helps leaders spot and address emerging concerns while they are still manageable and before they turn into disasters. It is a vital board skill.

Roberto opened his talk with examples from the Cuban Missile Crisis and recounted his conversations with Robert McNamara about that perilous time. He also gave examples from the 2003 NASA shuttle failure from his interviews with then Space Shuttle program manager, Linda Ham. Using these two examples he illustrated the fundamental value of actively seeking out problems before they find you.

I think his presentation had the attention of the audience—there was something seductively compelling about the idea of using proactive techniques to anticipate and avoid dangerous problems. Yet, despite our intellectual agreement that being proactive is always more effective than being inactive or reactive, what’s the trick? How do we set about successful problem-finding?

Roberto offered these seven steps to becoming a proactive problem-finder instead of a reactive problem-solver:

  1. Circumvent the gatekeepers – get unfiltered information.
  2. Become an ethnographer – watch what your constituents are doing and stay alert to what’s happening in the periphery. Watch for “Hirschman’s exit” or “voice” phenomena;
  3. Hunt for patterns – try to draw on past experiences but don’t get caught in the trap of misusing analogies.
  4. Use intuition to “connect the dots;” lessons learned from small problems can contribute to understanding the path of large problems.
  5. Encourage innovative thinking and risk-taking on a small scale – piloting programs and experimenting may be the key to learning. “Fail often, succeed sooner.”
  6. “Watch the film” – what is your team and the competition doing? “Adopt the military’s “After Action Review” (AAR) process to learn and improve;
  7. Create a climate of information-sharing – encourage people to speak up and have a mindset of “openness.”

In my opinion, our shareholders and stakeholders expect us board members to do our best to steward the organization. To do that, we need to listen to our inner dialogue to understand what can inhibit our participation in important activities. What can cause us to abdicate our leadership role? Is it fear that we may be viewed as pariahs and shunned if we voice a dissenting opinion?  Do we feel safer if we ignore an issue? Like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, do we believe that if we can’t see the problem, then it can’t see us? Or do we assume that someone else will tell us about the problem when it get big enough? All perilous pitfalls—which might be avoided by practicing problem-finding.

Read more about the NACD Directorship Forum here and here.

To reserve your seat for the NACD D100 Forum, November 8-9 at the Waldorf Astoria, NYC. Sign up to learn from Jet Blue director General (rtd) Stanley McChrystal, Polymer Group CEO Ronee Hagen and HealthSouth CEO Jay Grinney among others, and be our guest at the gala dinner celebrating the NACD D100 and Director of the Year honorees.

The Promise and Risk of Information and Technology at NACD Directorship Forum

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Solange Charas is the president of Charas Consulting, Inc. and a senior-level human capital professional with 20-plus years of experience as corporate CHRO and consulting firm practice director. She is currently pursuing her doctor of management at Case Western Reserve. She has served as the chair of the remuneration committee for a NASDAQ-traded company.

One of the benefits of attending NACD events is the opportunity to learn from directors and executives of big-name boards. The NACD Directorship Forum held May 23-24 did not disappoint: sessions on shockproofing the board, learning from the financial crisis and finding the best leadership model for your board and company were led by board members and C-suite leaders from companies including Jet Blue, GM, Ford, AIG and Best Buy.

The session I thought most interesting from both a content and “sociological” perspective concerned the promise and risk of information and technology. I am a “device diva”—a real technology junkie—so the topic was fascinating to me and it seemed to engage the 200 or so directors in the room. The panel represented some of the best thinking in the hi-tech and communications industries, with professionals from Oracle and Levick Strategic Communications sharing interesting technology “tales.”

                                                                How familiar are you with the concept of cloud computing?

Panelists discussed cloud technology, alternatives to large-scale capital investments, security, and e-discovery. Then the talk turned to “social media.” Richard Levick asked directors to consider “who are your bloggers, tweeters and Facebook friends” resulting in participants looking at one another with raised eyebrows. Examples of Bank of America’s inadequate response to the threat of negative information disclosed by WikiLeaks and Taco Bell’s deft response to the “where’s the beef” scandal illustrated the power of social media—as opposed to traditional channels—in shaping public opinion.

Leave nothing to chance

The third and perhaps most interesting aspect of this session was the dynamic of the panelists— there was actual dissention!  The give-and-take, with each expert expressing his and her own perspective on the topics, resulted in a robust dialogue. Contrasting the other panels where there were polite “I agree with….” and “John makes a good point…” these panelists didn’t mince words and had the courage to express their dissenting opinions.   

What a treat for the audience to observe a healthy dynamic where collegiality is NOT confused with congeniality. This rich dialogue offered value to the audience—not only in content, but as a model to directors that healthy dialogue generates better outcomes. As Sydney Finkelstein and Ann C. Mooney (2003) stated in an article published in Academy of Management, the number one goal for directors is to “engage in constructive conflict,”—meaning that directors should express their diverse views. When this happens the exchange of ideas “help the board better understand issues surrounding the decision context and synthesize multiple points of view into a decision that is often superior to any individual perspective.”  

This is something for directors to think about, especially those on nominating committees. Diversity isn’t just about skin color, gender or nationality. It is about selecting directors who will promote diverse ideas and have the courage to express those ideas to generate rich and constructive dialogue. When collegiality is confused with congeniality, your board and the quality and effectiveness of the cognitive product of the board is compromised.

Read more blog posts from Solange here

To register for the NACD D100 Forum, November 8-9 at the Waldorf Astoria, NYC click here.

Bestow the Glow—Nominate a Board Member You Admire for the 2011 NACD Director of the Year Awards

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As a philanthropist, mentor or family member, you probably support and affirm the efforts of many people every day—sustaining people in crisis, shelling out scholarship funds, listening to a brother in need, or applauding tiny grandchildren. Now, NACD is asking you to add a board member or two to your list and make someone’s day by nominating them for the NACD Director of the Year or B. Kenneth West Lifetime Achievement Award.

Don’t think these boardroom leaders won’t thank you. Every person on earth likes recognition for a job well done and appreciates an “attaboy/attagirl” when times are tough. When we are young, we typically receive praise from parents and teachers, and when we join the workforce exceptional performance can be rewarded by “hero-grams” from the boss and a welcome check at bonus time. Then we reach a stage in life when it seems that doling out the pats on the head, the slaps on the back and the big bucks falls to us. And, when you are the chairman of the board, everyone looks to you for validation, celebration and reward. Truly, it can be tough at the top.

The nature of effective board work means that most of it is unseen: the quiet word, the guiding thought and the patient phone calls seeking unity, collaboration and progress. The best in the boardroom spend hundreds of extra hours before board meetings, learning to know the company, the industry and the environment. They sublimate their egos, know when to speak up and when to stay silent, and match their judgment with maturity and integrity. Sure, many of them will have had high-profile and rewarding careers, but the last couple of years have been challenging for directors with high standards and a little love from you can’t hurt. Go on: Bestow the Glow.

To nominate a director you admire for one of the two NACD awards which will be presented at a Gala dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, New York, on Tuesday, November 8, 2011, please fill in the nomination form and supply at least three letters in support of your nominee. You can download the form and check all the details here. Nominations close on May 31 and an independent selection panel will announce the winners in early summer 2011.

The Director of the Year honorees and the D100 honorees will be celebrated at the NACD Directorship Forum, November 8-9, in New York.  Register here. You will have an opportunity to nominate directors, executives and governance experts for the D100 later this spring.

NACD Director of the Year Winners 2010

Curtis Crawford Richard Keyser Josh Bekenstein
B. Kenneth West Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree Public Company Director of the Year Award Honoree Nonprofit Director of the Year Honoree
Curtis J. Crawford, PhD,
Director of ON Semiconductor, E.I. Dupont DeNemours, and ITT Corporation
Richard Keyser,
Director Zebra Technologies, Chairman Emeritus of W.W. Grainger and Director, Principal Financial Group
Josh Bekenstein,
Managing Director Bain Capital, Co-Chair of Board of New Profit, Board of Dana Farber Cancer Institute, City Year, Horizons for Homeless Children and New Leaders for New Schools