“No board ever built anything great, but a bad board will kill a company every time.”

-Old Silicon Valley saying.

Some call it the chrysalis effect: the process of maturation for prosperous startups. It is nothing less than brutal to survive during this phase. And not seldom, during this transition, startups stop or are sold or taken over.

As scale-ups pursue high risk, innovative strategies, supervisory boards can make a significant and positive difference to help them navigate the challenges. We are keen to understand the impact our program is having on board members’ functioning.

So, how are we doing?

 

Ingredients

The five-day board program is the only program in the Netherlands for investment managers, board observers, entrepreneurs and (aspiring) board members. It has been running for two years, with 93 alumni.

The proprietary research-based insights provide an intimate understanding of the inner workings of a scale-up. The Board program is experiential, so not lecture-based, and creates opportunities to methodically gather perspectives about being a valuable scale-up board member.

Defining impact

As always: it’s rarely straightforward. Sentiment measurements on how much participants enjoyed a specific session don’t correlate well with long-term results. Besides, we don’t associate impact with particular types of business outcomes like ‘sales growth’ or ‘gross margin.’ After all, a board member doesn’t operate the business: the founder and the leadership team do that.

Proportionate to the program’s goals and duration, there are three levels of impact we expect to see from participating in our program:

Level

What you should experience

How to measure it?

1st level
As a board member, you can describe what you (ought to) do and why it matters to the scale-up and its stakeholders at large.
Upon completion of the program, any board member should be able to do this themselves drawing upon regular talks with fellow board members and the leadership team.
2nd level
As a board member, you can coach, give timely advice, or plot a course of action that shows the material effect on the ones receiving your feedback.
At this level, you begin to show influence on the company’s development, but it may not prove direct causality. You may conclude this from the annual board effectiveness evaluation, and talks with fellow board members and the leadership team.
3rd level
As a board member, you will have a demonstrable effect on the company’s health and its stakeholder relations.
At this level, you need to benchmark your mode of operation. It is hard to measure and the reason why ScaleUpNation considers setting up research methods using accurate methods -like control groups that isolate the nature of the impact.

Evidence of impact

Based on ongoing talks and discussions with participants over the past two years, we have found that the program catapults personal effectiveness and strategic thinking.

Most participants have gained the competence of being able to operate at Level One. There is anecdotal evidence that a minority of participants has reached Level Two effectiveness. Level Three effectiveness has not yet been assessed.

Apart from that, below list captures some of the elements that participants value in the program:

  • Diversity of speakers
  • Mix of participants
  • Collective casework
  • Theory and practice well-mixed
  • Limited homework
  • Lots of room for peer to peer learning

Alas, participants criticized the comfort of our seats and they are right. On the other hand, we often learn most from sessions or settings that are uncomfortable and stretch us. Innovation doesn’t happen in an armchair.

We want to get better at measuring and explaining the value of our program and, where possible, demonstrating causality. Any feedback to help us reflect on the way we design the board program and assess its impact is welcome.

Also, if you have any other questions, do get in touch with Sander van der Blonk. (Email to sander@scaleupnation.com)