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.
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