Looking back over various projects these last few months has brought to the forefront memories of the many governing boards I have coached and worked with over the years. As we prepared for this month’s newsletter, I was reminded of a weakness that is common to many boards I have been involved with, namely, the inability of boards to be effective communicators with stakeholders. In this time of tremendous change, with so many people working from home, with organizations rapidly shifting gears, with many facing daunting economic challenges, effective communication has become even more critical.
In teaching governing boards the basics on their responsibilities, I emphasize their responsibility to keep the organization safe from political attacks from within their shareholders or stakeholders. It is both demoralizing and destabilizing for management and staff to be working hard, yet be under attack for reasons that are not founded in fact.
It is not uncommon within the shareholder or stakeholder ranks, that someone seeks to make a name for themselves or gain power by tearing down or creating doubt about an institution. Unfortunately, it is all too easily done with a few juicy rumors. Just look at the sales of the National Enquirer or other such magazines at supermarkets, and it tells you that we human beings gravitate to the negative. Our reasoning? It seems safer to assume the worst than to assume and defend that “all is well”, only to be disappointed.
Shareholders or stakeholders, those whose interests are being represented by board members, must have confidence that their elected representatives are looking out for their interests and are competent. When they sense that is not the case, attacks upon the organization easily arise. The results are that a majority of the resources of management go into defending the organization rather than fulfilling its purpose and achieving the vision.
In essence then, it is up to the board members to defend the organization from such attacks
How to run defense for the organization
Here are some of the ways in which board members fulfill this responsibility:
- Insist via policy that management keep you informed so that you are ahead of the rumor mill. Some of my clients have set a policy that they want a weekly email report from the CEO so that they remain in the loop. This may be too frequent, but you do need some sort of policy here.
- Keep yourself well informed so that you can answer their questions. If you can’t, and instead refer them to management, you instill a belief that you are not on top of things, not in control, unable to represent their interests.
- Where feasible, meet with shareholders or stakeholders to report on progress and listen to their questions/concerns.
- Allow time on the agenda of your meetings to address shareholder/stakeholder concerns.
- Commit resources into an active shareholder/stakeholder relations program that maintains frequent and thorough communications
- Establish a policy on how you are going to handle shareholder/stakeholder complaints.
- If you are elected by a body (e.g. a tribal council, neighborhood council), then be sure you are reporting back to those bodies regularly. Establish a board policy that holds board members accountable to do this. And, insist that management empower you with the information you need.
- Use technology where possible, e.g. a Facebook page, LinkedIn group, DropBox, etc., to facilitate a two way dialogue with your shareholder/stakeholders
The bottom line
It is the responsibility of a board member to not only represent the interests of stakeholders and shareholders, but to keep them informed and up-to-date. If you have additional questions on this or want assistance putting such a program in place, e-mail us. We would be happy to help!