Last weekend I was enjoying the beautiful summer weather taking a walk along a local nature trail. There were many other people doing the same thing. What amazed me was the number of them that were walking along, heads down, totally absorbed in their devices! Instead of enjoying the beauty around them, they were somewhere else. Their bodies were been present, but their minds weren’t. As I was heading back to the parking lot, I noticed one man almost get wiped out by a car that was backing out of the parking stall, because he walked directly behind it – you guessed it – head down, totally absorbed in his device.
As I started for home, I got to thinking there is a lesson here for boards. How many boards are governing with their heads down, totally absorbed in all the operational details of their organization, while they are missing awareness of the environment in which their organization operates? In some cases, they may be completely blindsided by a danger that could easily have been anticipated had they been paying attention to their surroundings.
Boards have a responsibility to ensure their organizations remain relevant. That means being highly aware of the “VUCA” environment which characterizes our world: if you aren’t familiar with VUCA, it stands for “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.”
Boards today spend a significant amount of time worrying about compliance with a variety of regulations, because they don’t want to get “caught with their pants down,” embarrassed or guilty because of something going on in their organizations they were unaware of. I am not suggesting it is unimportant to have that awareness. However, a governance system where the board sets parameters in advance and regularly monitors them, such as Policy Governance®, can minimize the danger of being “caught with your pants down” without monopolizing all of the board’s time. Using such a system gives the board the time and energy to focus on the changing environment and what those changes might mean for the future of the organization, so the board can exercise strategic foresight and you don’t get caught with your headsdown.