Strengthening Your Board’s Role
In Strategy - Maryann Bruce

As an independent board director, I believe the board has a big role to play when creating an intentional strategy for an organization. I was recently a part of an interview moderated by Dottie Schindlinger, alongside Ralph de la Vega, Board Member, American Express, Amdocs, New York Life Insurance, and Dorlisa Flur, Board Member, Sally Beauty Holdings and Hibbert Sports. We discussed how boards can help management challenge assumptions, anticipate investor criticism and drive innovation.

You can read excerpts of my portion of the interview below.

How can the chair hold the line between management and boards on strategy?

“Effective chairs must have a sound knowledge of the company’s vision, mis­sion, and core values and strategy, as well as a clear understanding of where their contributions to those elements start and end. So, the chair should encourage the board to participate in activities related to strategy without microman­aging the CEO or overstepping their role. That’s been particularly challenging during the pan­demic, but it is important that the chair reinforce that the role is oversight, insight, and foresight. And one of the ways you can do that, and that many boards are doing, is the strategic offsite where the CEO and the leadership team review and analyze data related to the industry, the environment, the nature of the competition, and various businesses models. They can also collec­tively identify strategic priorities, establish goals and objectives, discuss resource allocations, and sup­port the decisions that need to be made around the strategic planning process. So, the chair’s primary role is to draw out everybody’s opinions in these discussions, because the goal is to have the whole be greater than the sum of the parts; the collective wisdom needs to transcend the individual contributions.”

How should boards approach gathering what they need to inform strategic decisions?

“One of the boards that I serve on hasn’t always done the best job of gathering data. So we’ve done two things to address that: First, we recently hired a consultant to work with us to help build that muscle, to determine what data we need to help us make informed and insight­ful decisions, and to make sure that we can get that data.

“Second, when we were looking for our new CEO, who joined in June of 2021, we looked to make sure that we found somebody who at their core and part of their DNA was data-focused and really took an approach that was different from what we had done in the past. Those are the two ways we addressed it.”

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