December 18, 2019

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Andrew Bergen

You Can’t Bring That in Here

You’ve heard all those horror stories about crossing the border between two countries, how difficult the immigration and customs process can be? Have you watched the National Geographic Channels show, Border Security? Well, I’ve had a few troubles at border crossings, but overall, it’s been ok. However, I do know how things can get really bad. 

Right now, the Border Agent checks to see if any prohibited materials are being brought across the border. The agent is looking for weapons, live plant material, certain fruits and vegetables, and cash above a certain dollar amount.  The country has stated that there are some risks to the nation if these prohibited materials are allowed to cross the border. So, the agent checks to make sure that they don’t cross with the traveler. It’s pretty straight forward – five or six questions – and if the answer is “no” to all of them, you are cleared.  

Now imagine a different process:  instead of describing prohibited materials, all of the permitted materials are listed. I can picture the dialogue between the traveler and the border agent sounding something like this: 

Border Agent: Please list for me all of the materials in your suitcase, handbag and any other carry on that you intend to bring into the country – one at a time. 

Traveller: One pair of blue socks. 

Border Agent: (pauses while he scrolls down his 586 page list). Ah, yes, they are permitted. As long as they are made either from wool, cotton, silk, polyester, nylon or rayon. What are yours? 

Traveller: cotton. 

Border Agent: Very well, you can bring those. Next? 

Traveller: One pair of brown socks. 

Border Agent: (checks his list again)… 

You get the picture. This would be an incredibly painful and inefficient process, filled with completely useless information for the Border Agent or the country he represents. 

I’ve seen boards in this situation. I’ve been a member of such boards.  It’s sort of like this. The CEO brings a report of a plan she wishes to follow in the future and asks the board if it would be permitted. The board, never having seen this particular plan, decides to take time in the meeting to get everyone’s input, with no pre-determined criteria as to what would make the plan acceptable.  Hmm… after hours or perhaps weeks or even months, the board agrees that the CEO is permitted to carry out that plan.  But what happens if while the board is deliberating, the CEO finds another plan that is more efficient and effective? She has to request time on the next board agenda some weeks or months down the road and go through the whole process all over again. Been there? 

A far better process would be for the board to state in advance the things that are not allowed for the CEO – things that would put the organization at too much risk; then carefully monitor to ensure those things aren’t being done. This frees the board to do its most important work – defining the future the organization should be creating. It also frees the CEO to actually do the work of making that future a reality. 

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