For many founders, a supervisory board is forced upon them when substantial funding is committed. Consequently, they see their board not as a strategic ally, but rather as an additional stakeholder to manage. On top, it often appears as an entity infringing their need for autonomous decision-making and self-governance.
Personally, I can relate to this quite well. During my tenure as a Partner at McKinsey, I once received a note from the Partner Review Committee. It read “You react to feedback so badly that we have decided to refrain from providing further feedback; instead, we will only provide you with a rating or ask you to leave”.
Many scale-up CEOs express to me their frustration with their own Board. The disappointments are diverse, manifested as tales of thwarted innovation and entrepreneurship, bureaucracy, and a sense of being encumbered rather than empowered. Their boards struggle to keep up with the rapid developments in the scale-up phase. There is misalignment on objectives, on strategy and on risk taking. There are also conflicts between the interests of the company and of investors also present in the Board.
This feedback resonated so deeply that, acting on the suggestion of Oscar Kneppers, we approached the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, we secured a budget to initiate a unique training program exclusively for scale-up board members. Originally called a masterclass, the program’s inception was rooted in the idea to cultivate an environment where the collective wisdom and insights of seasoned board members would serve as a valuable resource.
In parallel, we embarked on a research initiative on the effectiveness of scale-up boards. For this we forged an alliance with Dr. Natalia Blagburn, formerly Assistant Professor in venture board effectiveness and current Portfolio Investor Director at Mercia Ventures.
The research showed quite clearly that notwithstanding the many struggles, a well-constituted board, where members show a shared alignment and commitment to the scale-up’s vision, are equipped with the right skills, and know how to coach and engage efficiently, is an asset to the company’s scaling.
The Board Impact Award winners further opened my eyes that having a value creating board is indeed possible. And gave me another insight: the CEOs who were nominating their board member were clearly willing to share their vulnerabilities, seek advice, embrace feedback, and receive coaching. This resulted in a symbiosis. What you give is what you get.
My aspiration is that boards cease to be perceived as just one more stakeholder to manager but evolve into indispensable partners in the pursuit of scaling. The story needs to be told, so this article is the start of a series that will describe the various elements of high impact scale-up boards.
About Menno van Dijk
With a background at McKinsey for over 22 years, Menno has a deep understanding of strategy, innovation and growth in media, high tech and energy. After his time as a consultant, Menno started THNK school for creative leadership, and founded ScaleUpNation:
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