Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

April 4, 2024

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Richard Stringham

Is your Board Shucking Oysters?

In my younger career, I reported to a CEO who, in turn, reported to the board of our nonprofit organization. I, along with my colleagues, were responsible to prepare some of the reports which were presented to the board. Through a couple of decades of service in that organization, I was both amused and frustrated by the board’s appetite for the volume of reporting.

At one point, the board wanted more information. We dutifully complied.

A few years later, albeit with some changes in board members, we were directed to make our reports more concise.

Years later, the demand for more information was heard yet again.

In my current role as a consultant to boards, I have to wonder how much of what they receive is actually read, let alone digested! I say that because of critical information obviously overlooked based on some of the decisions that I’ve seen boards make.

Chatting with CEOs, I’ve heard their frustration with the lack of clarity re the board’s expectations. Consequently, CEOs throw as much as they can at the wall in hopes that something will stick!

This is not the CEO’s malicious attempt to overwhelm the board with information; instead, it is hoping that the information provided will have something significant for the board. If you harvest enough oysters, you’re likely to get a pearl at some point!

How many oysters does the board want to shuck looking for the odd pearl?

I expect that a great many boards are not clear on what information they really need to govern effectively. So, it is no wonder that CEOs are bewildered.

So, let’s think about this through the lens of board responsibilities.

Boards need monitoring information. Information that enables the board to determine if there is sufficient evidence to assess compliance with the board’s policies. If your board and/or CEO aren’t certain as to what that requires, check out our programs here.

Boards also need information to inform their decisions, particularly policy decisions because those are best method for the board to direct the organization.

And finally, boards need incidental information that is neither of the above, but preferable that the board hears it from the CEO first. For example, a member of the management team has moved on to something else. The board should hear about it from the CEO. The organization is in the news albeit for good or bad. The CEO should let the board know in a timely manner.

To make this happen, the board needs to capture those expectations in policy such as a series of statements about the CEO’s communication and support to the board.

And CEOs can help by clarifying the purpose of the information: monitoring, informing decision making, or incidental?


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