News and Views
January 15, 2018
Posted in: WATSON Views
January 16, 2018
For many of us, January is about renewal – a time for a fresh start and an opportunity to become the best you can be – including in the boardroom.
I learned long ago that being chair is an ongoing learning experience. And reflection and goal setting go hand in hand as part of that journey. That’s why every January I sit down, reflect on my chairship over the past year and think about how I can be a better chair in the year ahead.
In the spirit of giving, I thought I would share this year’s chairing resolutions with you. (By the way, studies show that writing your goals down increases the likelihood of achieving your goals by as much as 10 times). Here are my top four goals for 2018.
Goal #1. Spend more time with my governance family
When I became chair, I sat down with every director and member of the management team to get to know them and discuss what was on their mind. I pledged to make this an ongoing practice but, over time, things have gotten busy and I have been less diligent.
This year, I will meet in person with all directors and members of senior management. I want to know:
- How they’re feeling about the board and the organization
- What’s keeping them up at night
- What kind of learning they’ve been engaged in through their job or board work
- What areas of board focus are important to them for the year ahead
I will also check in periodically with all directors between meetings to get their sense of the issues and trends we should be paying attention to. This will be invaluable over the coming year to help the CEO and me frame the board’s agenda. These conversations can also provide me with the opportunity to offer coaching and mentoring to directors, with a longer view on board renewal.
A practice of intentional, ongoing discussions will shape our board’s culture. I will do all I can do to bring out the best of the board, and that means bringing out the best of each individual around the table. Regular check-ins become even more valuable when contentious issues arise – they create a true “open door” policy so that negative situations don’t fester.
Goal #2. Build a healthy chair/CEO partnership
I will meet with the CEO before and after each meeting – in person whenever possible. It’s hard to find the time to connect, but when we do meetings are more focused, management materials are on point and my fellow directors are, as a result, more effective.
Before each meeting, I will meet with the CEO to discuss objectives, share insights from directors and isolate potential hiccups or pitfalls. These meetings will drive an agenda that is connected to our organization’s strategy, with sufficient time allocated to the most important topics.
After each meeting, I will share the “mind of the board” with the CEO – key messages from the in camera session, clear directions on next steps and any feedback for the CEO or their team. I know that a healthy relationship is characterized by communication, trust, honesty and mutual respect and my relationship with the CEO is no different.
Goal #3. Learn something new about ourselves
I will ensure we properly evaluate both our board’s performance and our individual contribution. Even when things are going well, I know how important it is to stop, reflect and consider what is working well and what isn’t. I will ensure we conduct a formal board evaluation process to seek feedback, discuss the results, set goals and hold ourselves accountable to the goals we set for ourselves.
I will also be a champion for director evaluation. We’ve been doing board evaluations for years but haven’t yet made the jump to evaluating ourselves individually (including me as chair). It’s time to change that – I want feedback to get better and I know that, if done properly, directors will glean valuable feedback to improve their performance. Feedback is a gift – as chair, I will set the tone for both giving and receiving it.
Goal #4. Exercise control of the meeting
I will flex my chair muscles by owning and managing board meetings. This one always seems to make it on my list of chairing resolutions – it’s an endless work in progress.
I will drive the agenda setting process. I will make sure we stick to the agenda as much as possible, while maintaining some flexibility. I will stop tangents, tirades and trivial conversations before they spiral out of control. I will make sure everyone has a chance to voice their opinion, and ensure no one voices their opinion three or four times. Gone are the days of the dog with the loudest bark. I will stop the conversation when we have, collectively, done sufficient justice to a topic. I will do this calmly and kindly, with respect and grace. The more I exercise my chair muscles, the stronger they will be.
It’s time to get organized and make the most of the year ahead – it’s going to be a great one! To make sure I stick to my chairing resolutions I am going to implement a technique I learned from a master chair: at the first meeting of the year, I am going to share these resolutions with the board and management team. That way, I’m not just accountable to myself – my entire team will be watching me. This has made a tremendous difference in achieving previous chairing resolutions.
What are your chair resolutions? I invite you to borrow one of my resolutions and bring it to your boardroom.
From my board to yours, cheers to a happy, healthy and hardworking 2018.
The Intentional Chair
The Intentional Chair is the collective voice of over 30 exceptional chairs who kindly shared their insights, thoughts and experiences with WATSON in support of our passion for real, practical governance learning.