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Rachel Colabella Presents at CPA BC Pacific Summit 2019

May 17, 2019

Posted in: WATSON Speaks


Rachel Colabella presents at the Annual Chartered Professional Accountants of BC’s (CPA BC) Pacific Summit on Friday, May 17, 2019. Discussed will be the growing recognition that culture and dynamics impact organizational success. Rachel’s session “Effective Governance: Exploring the Importance of Culture and Dynamics Between Boards and Management” will provide practical information and tools that boards, and management can use to effectively support one another.

More about CPABC 2019 Spring Pacific Summit – Click here


WATSON Partners with Sauder

May 13, 2019

Posted in: WATSON Speaks

WATSON partners with UBC Sauder School of Business for governance education.

Vancouver, British Columbia – WATSON Advisors—Canada’s largest multi-disciplinary governance firm—announces its first partnership with UBC Sauder School of Business. WATSON’s flagship Governing with Intention™ course will be offered as part of UBC Sauder’s Executive Education programs.

Governing with Intention™ equips directors and management with practical tools and clear guidance to address specific governance challenges. Through their work with boards, WATSON is witnessing firsthand how boards are trying to navigate the many grey areas of governance.

“There is more focus being paid to good governance and more and more executives are seeking governance education to top up their professional experience,” said Suzie Cho, WATSON Academy Practice & Learning Lead, “It helps them better fulfil their director duties and in turn helps their organizations perform better.”

UBC Sauder Executive Education has been at the forefront of offering programs that meet executives’ most pressing professional needs. “We see governance knowledge as a natural complement for many of our executives,” said Anson Tung, Director, Open Enrolment, “And WATSON’s approach means our executives can put their learning into immediate practice.”

Governing with Intention™, July 25-26, 2019, UBC Robson Square.

WATSON Facilitator: Rachel Colabella


For more information about the program at UBC Sauder

The Board’s Role in Change – Giving the CEO Space to Lead for Success

May 9, 2019

Posted in: WATSON Views

By: Rachel O’Connor, Practice Lead, Performance and Leadership

It seems like everyone is talking about transforming their organization, aspiring to be more agile, sustainable, resilient, collaborative, customer-centric, open, platform-based, long-term sustainable…. Do any of these sound familiar? These all describe what organizations need to do, and to be, to survive in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.

The reality is that it’s hard to get from “here” to “there”, especially if “here” is pretty comfortable. We know it’s hard to make changes to cultures, business models, etc. without the proverbial burning platform. It’s also hard to manage expectations of shareholders and stakeholders when they may have to forgo short-term results for longer-term impacts that are not guaranteed.

The board needs to give the CEO and the organization space, time, and support to make a transition that typically won’t show results in the same year. It goes beyond patience, to active belief and confidence that the strategy is the right one and the future state can be achieved. And yet – how does a board do that while providing oversight and ensuring accountability?

Take for example Microsoft, in 2014 when Satya Nadella, as a first-time CEO, presented a compelling case for completely transforming the business model, priorities, structure, and culture of the company. If you were on the board:

  • How would you approach your work as a director?
  • How would you deal with the fact that there would be layoffs and potential short-term disruption to results?
  • What about the staff who liked the old way (after all, they had enjoyed enormous financial benefit)?
  • How would you ensure that the transformation was on track and was actually going to yield the expected results?
  • How do you find the balance between patience, engagement, and oversight?

When I see Microsoft’s success in its transformation, and its subsequent strong stock performance, I think the board must have played its role very well.  Few organizations have successfully achieved such a notable transformation, especially without the urgency of a crisis.  This board had the courage to back the plan not only at its inception but through challenge and pressure.  To keep that courage, they must have asked for and received the insight they needed to be confident that the direction was correct and the transformation was progressing.

Our advice to boards who are living through this kind of change is to:

  • Anticipate and talk about what the pressures will be and come back to the discussion at regular intervals to remind everyone that this is normal and expected; reground yourselves in your roles and where you need to focus.
  • Identify what the early indicators of success (or failure!) will be. How you will know the change is on track even if it doesn’t yet show up in the results? It takes time for this kind of change to flow to the bottom line or to outcomes, but you can monitor a dashboard of indicators and listen for the right stories.
  • Align on the board’s role both through the change and at the end of it. Make sure that how you measure performance, determine pay and incentives, and select and manage top leaders fits the future and not the past.
  • Make sure everyone is singing from the same song book – craft rational and clear messages for the change that can be repeated to those who will question you on the basis of results – and shift the conversation to the long term.

When the organization is in significant change, it needs a board that engages differently. This is a powerful opportunity for a board to make its impact and add value to the organization.


Mastering Peer Evaluation Feedback

April 1, 2019

Posted in: WATSON Views

Part 3 of WATSON’s 3-part Year of the Peer series

There is an old saying that feedback is a gift. Yet, for many directors, it is a gift we would prefer not to receive. It is also a gift many of us are unprepared to give. Boardrooms historically do not have a culture rich in evaluation and self-reflection. So, it should come as no surprise when directors are asked to share feedback on each other’s contributions to the board and a collective shudder ripples around the room.

Before asking directors to weigh in on peer performance, boards should ensure directors are comfortable with the evaluation process. It begins with understanding your board’s purpose in pursuing an evaluation, building a state of readiness and customizing the process. Without an upfront investment to ready (and steady) directors, there is a risk of the process causing more harm than good, particularly when it comes to relationships and board dynamics. Read up on how to ready the board and customize your evaluation.

Hey WATSON, I think there is a bigger problem in the boardroom that the survey doesn’t really address. What should I do?

If your feedback is about big issues that you feel are not properly addressed through a survey, speak with your Chair about other ways to address and resolve the issue. The director evaluation process is not your only avenue to deliver feedback to colleagues and is not an ideal avenue for more serious issues. If you feel the issue is with the Chair, talk to the Vice Chair or Governance Committee Chair about how best to proceed.

Have a governance question?


How to give the Gift of Feedback

To ensure your feedback is valuable and valued, employ these tried and true techniques:

Focus on Facts – High-quality feedback is low in judgment. Instead of stating your opinion about the person, identify the facts and your observations.

Example: “Mary is unengaged” vs. “Mary spends a lot of meeting time on her phone. During our last meeting, she asked several questions that were already addressed in the risk register update presentation.”

Be Specific – The more specific you can make the feedback, the more the receiver will be able to recollect situations or examples you may be describing and think about how to address them differently next time.

Example: “Bob talks too much” vs. “Bob can dominate a conversation at times. Last month during the conversation about our new office space, he didn’t let other directors ask their questions and I know this caused frustration.”

Emphasize Strengths – Highlight contributions so that directors understand where they are particularly effective and what they should keep doing.

Example: “Jane comes to the meeting with a list of thought-provoking questions that engages the entire board at the right strategic level.”

Take Personality Out – When raising shortcomings, try to provide specific examples and keep comments constructive. Try not to label behaviour with absolutes. Avoid personality-related comments that usually only serve to create bad feelings.

Example: “Tony is like a lemming. He never takes a stand. He votes with the majority every time. Might as well not show up” vs. “At the last meeting, Tony did not raise any questions to management nor did he provide any insight during the discussion on fundraising options. When it came to a vote on direction, he voted with the majority. This is a fairly common approach for him.”

How to Graciously Receive the Gift of Feedback

You’ve just been handed a thick report on your performance in the boardroom. Try these top tips to help you work through your director evaluation feedback:

Wear Three Hats. Read your report three times with three different lenses:

  • What – what is the feedback?
  • So what – what are your reactions to the feedback?
  • Now, what – what are you going to do with the feedback?

Pause and Coach Yourself. Consider the following guiding questions in preparation for your one-on-one debrief with the Chair:

  • What do you think about the areas of greatest contribution identified by your peers?
  • Where do you see opportunities for you to improve your contribution?
  • Are you surprised by any of the feedback?
  • What specific development actions will you take as a result of the feedback?

Don’t Ignore the Good. It is basic human nature to brush the good aside and focus on the ‘what did they say about me’ negatives. Or even worse, ‘who said what’. We can’t stress this firmly enough – don’t skip over the positive feedback.

Consider the Context. The feedback included in your director evaluation is based on observed behaviour in the boardroom as a director, at a given point in time. Behaviour can change over time as you grow in your role and dedicate time to expanding your knowledge and skills.


Remember, the purpose of the process is to help you improve in your role as a director with the overall goal of continual board-wide improvement. The gift of feedback may not always be easy to give or receive, but if you let it, it can be a valuable gift that keeps on giving. Better directors, better board, better organization.

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