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Board-Executive Assessment of Teaming

November 12, 2020

Posted in: WATSON Views

  • The chair of a Crown corporation feels like the CEO controls and limits information going to the board and is resistant to the board’s guidance. The CEO feels like the board is continuously interfering in operational matters and is trying to guide them to a more strategic level by limiting the data that goes to the Board.
  • The board and executive team of a not-for-profit have a highly collaborative and trusting working relationship. There are few disagreements and the CEO’s plans get passed easily and unanimously. A new director worries there is not enough constructive questioning and rigour. The CEO worries she is not getting challenged enough – who will help her ensure she has thought through all the possibilities?
  • Board meetings are a snooze. Conversations go in circles, and lots of issues reappear and get rehashed without ever coming to a decision and moving forward. A new director tries to provoke some debate and strategic conversation on pressing issues, but the agenda is packed so the conversation is deferred to a future meeting where it is allocated a whopping 7 minutes of discussion.

Do any of these sounds familiar?


The board-management dynamic is a critical one. Boards, CEOs, and executive teams need to function constructively and effectively for organizations to thrive. Roles, engagement, information, and governance practices have to keep pace with a rapidly changing world – and so does the board-management relationship itself.

Organizations have been tested by COVID-19, and will be tested again. Whether experiencing challenge or opportunity, boards and executive teams are under significant pressure right now. In times of uncertainty, relationships, communications, and lines of accountability are tested and can fray. While trust and partnership can bring resolve and unity, cracks in the surface can reveal deeper issues.

As many organizations are now at a point where they can pause and reflect, it is an opportune time to strengthen the board-executive relationship to prepare to face what the future brings together. One way to build alignment and effective dynamics is to assess the current strengths and challenges of the relationship in order to determine areas of future focus.

To support you in your learning and reflection, we are making WATSON’s BEAT (Board Executive Assessment of Teaming) freely available for the next 60 days. This is a time when organizations need alignment and effective dynamics most. We want to set you on the right path to achieve this.

WATSON’s BEAT model is designed to explore the unique kind of alignment and dynamics that need to be in place when the board and the executive team work together. The model looks at 12 dimensions of effective board-executive teaming, within four categories:

We developed this model to better understand the unique nature of the board-management relationship. The relationship challenges many traditional conceptions of what makes a strong, effective team. While trust, shared purpose, and healthy dynamics form the foundation of a productive partnership, there is a degree of necessary distance required at the same time. Each group has a distinct identity and role that must be preserved. The board-management team benefits by not being overly aligned, and by retaining space, clear boundaries, and healthy tension between the two groups. Yet, at the same time, they must somehow achieve openness, mutual commitment, and the ability to get important work done together. And all of this happens in the context of information asymmetry, diverse experience and backgrounds, and sharply different time commitments.

While boards and executive teams engage at board meetings and offsites, this time is often spent on the work, and not on building the relationship. And while shared meals, team building, and committee-level relationships can help build connections, most boards dedicate minimal time to building and strengthening this important relationship, let alone talking about it.

There are many ways to build and foster a strong, effective partnership. They will look different depending on where you are starting from. The best approaches acknowledge the unique nature of the relationship and are intentionally designed to suit this context and the limitations within. They require conscious effort by all and strong leadership by the CEO and chair to set the tone for the partnership.

Now more than ever, we need effective partnerships at the top driving innovation, ensuring seamless execution, and flexing to emerging challenges and opportunities as organizations face a changing world.

WATSON’s Board-Executive Teaming Assessment

Because we’ve had a lot of questions lately about dynamics (perhaps because of the increased pressure of COVID) we’ve decided to move one of our WATSON diagnostics online to support directors who are thinking about these issues – it’s free for now as a way to support the conversation.

Complete the assessment to receive your BEAT report. Bring it back to your board-executive team to start a discussion on how to strengthen your unique partnership

Take your assessment today.

Start HERE



ESG for Not-For-Profits

October 22, 2020

Posted in: WATSON Views

Discussions of purpose, stakeholder capitalism, social license, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) are front and centre on corporate boardroom agendas. But what about organizations that have always been purpose driven? While most discussions of ESG are geared towards the for-profit context, there are important lessons and frameworks that are widely applicable for all types of organizations, including not-for-profits (NFPs). We’ve identified five ways NFPs can build on their purpose-driven roots and leverage the important work being done in this emerging discipline.


1) Translate your purpose into action

NFPs have always been purpose driven. Without the guise of maximizing returns, they have always had to define their purpose beyond financial results. The challenge for NFPs often comes from consistently translating purpose into action, ensuring projects and services serve their purpose, and measuring impact. While some NFPs are clear on their purpose, others experience mission creep driven by good intentions to solve problems and fill immediate needs. All organizations, including NFPs, must ensure they have a clear and specific purpose that articulates why they exist. The board and management must be aligned on this purpose and how to achieve it.

Next comes execution. When executing, consider how a program, service, or direction will advance the organization’s mission and purpose. Ensure the board and management team are clear on this link. Think about any unintended consequences on stakeholder groups and the interdependencies of decision-making. Will a decision benefit one group at the cost of another? What might the fallout be? How will funders respond to a given direction and what impact will this have?


2) Broaden your view of the stakeholder landscape

NFPs typically have a clearly defined group or cause that the organization serves. Sometimes, because this group is so clearly defined, organizations and boards focus exclusively on this one group and don’t pay enough attention to other stakeholder groups. These boards are encouraged to consider all stakeholder groups in decision-making, including those who might not be directly impacted by the decision.

Other NFPs are further along the curve in thinking about this and recognize their complex stakeholder landscape, from employees, funders, and government, to beneficiary groups and communities impacted by the organization. These organizations have been thinking beyond their primary audience for some time.

All NFPs can take their approach to stakeholder engagement to the next level by mapping stakeholder groups and thinking about how to balance competing stakeholder interests. Within each stakeholder group, there are different sub-groups that might have different (or competing) concerns, needs, and priorities. It’s up the board and management team to understand how each group is impacted by the organization and what is important to the group in order to shape how the organization approaches its engagement approach. The board must assure itself that it is getting the right information to guide their oversight of this key area and make informed and balanced trade-offs based on high-quality intel.


3) Stay ahead of the curve and revisit key conversations as needed

The world is changing by the day. Societal expectations of all types of organizations are changing rapidly, as is the potential for fallout if behaviour is left unchecked (or if inaction continues). Don’t assume decisions made six months ago will be the right ones for today. At the same time, the board cannot constantly revisit past decisions. And it won’t always get everything right. The important thing is to stay vigilant, pay attention to what is happening at other organizations, and consider how societal shifts might impact your organization. When making decisions, take a longer-term view, not only thinking of the immediate and expectations of today, but also anticipating where society might be going and planning ahead with that in mind.


4) Leverage the G of ESG

The governance side of ESG looks at a range of factors – management structure, employee relations, compensation, workplace diversity and inclusion, board diversity, talent management, employee relations, health and safety, labour practices, board independence, board composition and renewal, and more. While the specifics of these will look different in a NFP context, these are important areas for all boards to pay attention to and there are helpful frameworks to serve as a starting off point for NFPs looking to provide greater oversight in these areas. While practices and metrics will look different, there are great opportunities for NFPs to leverage the work being done in the corporate space and adjust and adapt it to serve their context and needs.


5) Assess your board’s approach and prioritize key areas of focus

While some ESG frameworks are more technical and geared towards responsible investment, others are broadly focused on organizational purpose, the stakeholder landscape, and governance structures and practices. The latter can be highly applicable to the NFP context. WATSON has developed a short survey to help all types of boards (including NFPs) assess their approach to stakeholder capitalism. Draw on these tools to start the conversation and determine where to focus next. While NFPs may not have the same organizational capacity to take on sweeping ESG initiatives, start small and take it one step at a time.

NFPs have a real opportunity to build on the strength of their purpose-driven foundation, drawing on leading ESG practices in the for-profit space and adapting them to suit their context. We need strong, sustainable NFPs more than ever with skilled boards that are equipped to deliver on purpose, serve all stakeholders, and navigate a changing world with care and intention.



Liz Watson Moderates ICD Webinar: The Changing Role of the CEO and Corporations in Society

October 14, 2020

Posted in: WATSON Speaks

Recent events have shone a spotlight on the changing role of the CEO (and corporation) in society. Highly charged issues including gun control, climate change, carbon economy, living wage, indigenous rights, systemic racism, BLM and #MeToo have found their way onto the corporate agenda as many customers, employees and other stakeholders have demanded the CEO and corporation take a public stand on the issues. An outstanding panel of CEOs, who are also independent board directors, will discuss this new reality from their perspective.

Join Liz Watson and the esteemed panelists; Ian Anderson, President & CEO, Trans Mountain Corporation., Scott Thomson, President & CEO, Finning International Inc., and Tamara Vrooman, President & CEO Vancouver Airport Authority.


Wednesday, October 28, 2020
11:00AM EST / 9:00AM MDT / 8:00AM PDT

More information HERE



WATSON Webinar: The Critical Board-CEO/Executive Dynamic: Experiences from the Front Line

October 9, 2020

Posted in: WATSON Speaks, WATSON Webinars

The dynamic duo of board and management is critical to an organization’s effective functioning, and critical to its success.

In this unique relationship, these two groups must balance alignment and collaboration with the need for clear boundaries between operations and oversight.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when organizations are experiencing the stresses of challenge and opportunity.

Join WATSON’s Practice Leads, Rachel O’Connor and Sharon Rudy, and our featured guests panelists: Glenn Wong, Founder of Catalyst Solutions Ltd and LIFT Philanthropy Partners Board Chair, and Bev Briscoe, current Board Chair of Kal Tire , Chair of the Board of Richie Bros. Auctioneers Inc., Lead Director of Goldcorp Inc., and Director of Newmont Inc., as they share their unvarnished stories and experience from both sides of this duo.

We will explore:

  • What makes for an effective relationship between Boards, CEOs and executives?
  • What are the practices, boundaries and dynamics that make a difference?
  • Where do the cracks tend to appear under strain? What are the pitfalls to watch out for?
  • How do you adjust the dynamic when you need to, whether to respond to a short-term situation or address an issue?

Boards and executive teams are under significant pressure right now. In times of uncertainty, relationships, communications, and lines of accountability are tested and strained – and can fray.

Learn how you can strengthen your relationship and be better prepared to face the coming months of pandemic recovery – and build a strong organization for the long term.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020
1:00PM EDT/ 2:00PM ADT/ 12:00PM CDT/ 11:00AM MDT/ 10:00AM PDT

More information HERE



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