Two people impact the effectiveness of the board – the Chairman and CEO.
The functioning of a board can be likened to the harmonious rhythm of a traditional drum circle. Just as a well-coordinated percussion ensemble creates beautiful music, a smoothly functioning board is essential for the success of any organization. In this coordinated kind of leadership, the chairman assumes a pivotal role, much like the lead drummer setting the tempo and ensuring the collective beat remains in sync.
Drawing inspiration from Lord Clive Hollick’s wisdom, the chairman’s role is to orchestrate a carefully choreographed performance. The following seven essential protocols are critical for chairmen to win:
- Setting the Rhythmic Agenda: Just as the lead drummer selects the compositions to be played, the chairman determines the board’s agenda. This entails choosing strategic topics and priorities that need attention. You want the agenda to prioritize the business’s strategic challenges first, and less critical issues later. The input of other directors, and of course the managing director, in defining the key business imperatives is key. You want the board to address issues with high strategic impact first; when members are still fresh.
- Quality Beats Information: Just as a skilled percussionist delivers precise and resonant beats, the chairman must ensure that board members receive high-quality information. This includes accurate, timely, and relevant data necessary for informed decision-making. I have witnessed a board meeting where the secretary entered the meeting holding board packs; as the chairman called them out to stop and adjourned the meeting. “We are not here to read and brainstorm. We are here to add value. We need informed shared at least 7 days to fully internalize it and bring meaningful discussions.” A good chairman must protect the other directors by providing the right guidance when it comes to board dynamics and information for directors.
- Timely Beats Information: Just as the tempo in a drum circle must remain steady, the chairman decides when and how information is presented to the board. This involves establishing clear timelines for data delivery. Many times, board charters define the timelines to submit relevant board information usually 14 days or 7 days before the board meeting, this requirement must be followed. The Chairman must work with the executive to enforce this otherwise, the board’s effectiveness is always undermined.
- Maintaining the Right Tempo: Like a conductor guiding the musicians, the chairman manages the length of board meetings. Striking the right tempo ensures that meetings are productive without dragging on unnecessarily. You don’t want meetings that drag on and drag, without decisions. A good chairman knows when to remove an item from the table and to move on to the next one.
- The Number of Drumming Sessions: The chairman also determines the frequency of board meetings, similar to scheduling drum circle sessions. The timing must strike a balance, ensuring that discussions remain regular without becoming overwhelming.
- The Rhythmic Purpose: Just as each drumming session may serve a specific purpose or theme, the chairman defines the nature and objectives of board meetings. Is it a strategy session or an operational review? Clarity in purpose is essential.
- Harmonizing the Drummers: In the spirit of collaborative music-making, Chairman Terry Burns emphasizes the importance of involving all board directors in these protocols. Like drummers in a circle, board members should engage in discussions, enhancing predictability and understanding among the ensemble.
Neglecting these fundamental principles could lead to discord within the board, disrupting the harmonious rhythm necessary for effective governance. In our East African context, one of the most common dysfunctions is the failure to receive the right data at the right time, much like a drummer missing a beat. Another challenge is the opposite extreme—data saturation, where excessive information overwhelms the board.
To ensure the board’s harmony, it is the chairman’s responsibility to curate the nature, volume, and quality of data presented. Only then can the board members effectively fulfill their roles as guardians and auditors of the organization’s performance. In this dance of governance, the chairman is the lead drummer, setting the rhythm and ensuring that the board’s collective performance resonates with success in the vibrant business landscape of East Africa.
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