Navigating the current environment successfully is certainly no joke.
Volatility abounds in financial markets, the economy, energy supply and pricing, war in Ukraine, and a revolving door of talent. Even the weather has been unsettled (in North America, at least) making it challenging to discern whether it’s winter or spring. This also disrupts logistics and productivity.
When uncertainty is particularly high and you’re scrambling to address today’s challenges, it’s tempting to put longer-term thinking—tomorrow’s problems—on hold. Practically speaking, if you can’t keep the lights on, there is no future.
Yet this is precisely where your board can help. A key role of the board is to ensure the sustainability of the organization for the future—and for the benefit of its varied stakeholders. Unfortunately, many board members tell me that they spend relatively little time thinking and talking about the future. Much of their agenda is focused on near-term results, compliance, addressing thorny challenges, and dealing with the issues at hand.
Quarterly board meetings provide a valuable chance to ensure that you’re appropriately looking ahead. CEOs engage advisors and boards to anticipate or identify emerging risks. Boards lend their diverse expertise in specific areas. They suggest strategies to mitigate both recognized and projected risks. Structure the board agenda to allow time for these forward-thinking conversations. Otherwise, it’s a lost opportunity.
Cultivating Open Dialogue
CEOs strengthen their relationship with the board by cultivating open dialogue. In turn, boards encourage agility by expecting and accommodating adjustments, within the agreed strategic framework. I advise both CEOs and boards to ask and welcome strategic questions to stimulate thinking and build on the shared objective for the organization. For example:
Boards ask CEOs:
• What makes you uncomfortable right now?
• What are you doing today to address tomorrow’s challenges?
• How might you transform a prospective disruptor into an enabler of something new?
• To what extent do you have the right structure, processes, and people to oversee mission-critical risks?
• What’s the culture you need to accelerate progress?
CEOs ask boards:
• What trends or risks do you see on the horizon that could become mission-critical?
• What new expertise or skills are needed on the board and among top management to ensure the appropriate diversity of experience for the future?
• What are you seeing in other industries or companies that may signal an opportunity or a worry for us?
• In what ways may we help you to connect more directly with our business, customers, and stakeholders?
Uncertainty in the business environment is, well, certain. In addition to its fiduciary and oversight roles, the board can be a valuable resource for CEOs to step out of the near-term and anticipate the longer term. Smart CEOs welcome—and even solicit— such insights from their boards.