It sounds glamorous, right? “Board Member” or “Non-Executive Board Member”. Shareholder.
Many have this romanticized notion of what that is – sitting around an oval table in a glossy office, surrounded by other board members in neat fitting suits, like a bunch of “wise druids” serving as an “oracle” for the CEO. I was guilty of this same naive notion, topped with the conviction that one day I will make an impact for the venture on whose scale-up board I will take a place on.
Little did I realise that it’s not at all about me! My learnings in the ScaleUpBoard program put a hole the size of a crater into my romantic notion. They did not however put a dent into my resolve to provide courageous support to a future CEO and board buddies in the pursuit of my duty of care.
The duty of care
The duties of a board team, being that executive or non-executive, are first and foremost ensuring proper governance; the duty of care. The duty of seeking more information in order to support the CEO with strategic topics, concerning his/her team and the health of the organisation as a whole. The duty to become their guardian of “blind-spots”.
By definition, a scaling venture is subject to numerous organisational “evolutions and revolutions”, as Larry Greiner has shown us in his vital research. He explains that throughout the 6 phases of organisational growth, every venture is faced with different evolutions and crises which are embedded in time and in the size of the organisation. And each crisis needs to be addressed properly if the venture is to propel itself into the next evolutionary phase. Hence, the duty of care as a scale-up board member means to foresee these crises, recognize them and provide the CEO with the advice to enable the next phase of growth, all without sitting in the CEO’s seat.
“When leaders transform, organisations transform”. Organisational transformation begins with the personal transformation of leaders. The duty of care is to support such revolutions, even if it means making uncomfortable, painful interventions. These include sending the CEO back to reconsider growth plans, giving considerations if a CEO and/or MT member has the right personality and skills for the different phases of the venture’s evolution, or provide impulses to the CEO on incentive plans that ensure key people are properly motivated to put their “skin in the game”. What does that mean in terms of board composition, diversity and roles of board members? An awful lot!
The duty to rock the boat
My favourite responsibility as a board member is the duty to “rock the boat”. The dilemmas that we face in our role as board members are a hundredfold. That means that having a board composition where diversity of thinking and hard and soft control practices are embedded is fundamental. A 21st century board is sensitive to cultural realities and how that impacts the way we as humans see the world. Most importantly, how we conduct conflict. Because argue we must! Constructive conflict ensures that the right decisions are taken and it results in uncompromised commitment, even if initially not everybody was of the same opinion. “Consensus is the killer of good decisions.” We have a duty to address each other’s bias and stereotypes. Diversity of thinking leads to better board dynamics and value creation for the venture.
Ultimately, a healthy board is a value guarantee for the venture. It provides a perspective on leadership transformation, scale-up strategy, growth and governance. A vital ingredient is that as board members we know clearly what each of our roles is, why our butts are seated in a particular board, and to what purpose we are there. We must make explicit the values we want to add to the scale-up. It’s imperative that we agree on a shared mindset and sign off on a set of behaviours. We must endevour that “brilliant arseholes” will not be tolerated.
Having come full circle, I believe that today I’m ready to step into my role as future non-executive board member, ready to be courageous, distant (and close) enough to “get shit done”. I understand my duty of care, my duty to step into the uncomfortable and address what needs to be addressed. My ambition to serve a future board and venture has not vained at all, on the contrary! Through the ScaleUpBoard program I’ve understood that it’s not about me or any members on the board. It’s all about the venture’s people and ensuring the future growth of the scaling organisation by courageously fulfilling the duties that this honorable role entails.
In order to scale, teams need to work together to a particular business beat when they want to scale a company. Francesca helps them define that beat and achieve sustainable growth, using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and Lean principles.
Francesca’s mantra is “Ideas are easy, execution is everything. And discipline will set you free.”
”My favourite responsibility as a board member is the duty to “rock the boat”.
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