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Over the past two years, boards have been busy contemplating the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and complying with new
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governance initiatives The importance of the board s oversight responsibilities cannot be understated, however, directors are also advisors Arguably, the director s role as advisor may be the most important contribution to the company and its shareholders To not mine the collective business experience and judgment available to the company would be wrong But meetings are packed with presentations and information, and if the board has been overly focused on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, these meetings are generally not the place to call the entire corporate strategy into question In general, board meetings should be a tool for directors to monitor on-going execution of the company s strategy Even before the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the only times strategy matters would normally be questioned is when there is turnover in the CEO suite, financial objectives are not realized by a wide margin, or there is merger or takeover activity Directors who ignore this protocol risk being isolated, and cannot be effective advocates for their shareholder constituency Yet directors are expected to serve with independence, objectivity, and a modicum of skepticism on behalf of shareholders What was at one time a brilliant strategy may no longer be relevant if the competitive landscape has changed If an individual board member has concerns about the strategy, it needs to be raised The ability of directors to openly discuss important issues without raising the ire of management and other board members is a critical cultural value One solution put forward by Harvard s Gordon Donaldson is a regular review that evaluates the effectiveness of the current strategy against expected results A regularly scheduled strategic audit produces the oversight required while still recognizing management s authority and execution responsibilities As a regular discussion item, strategy is assessed by the entire board rather than just by management or a rogue director It is a process instead of an attack on management and will bolster credibility16 Developing a strategy is clearly the responsibility of management They are closer to the business, better understand the competition, and are uniquely positioned to recognize the company s strengths and weaknesses However, the board can bring their years of experience to bear on the pros and cons of management s strategies and possibly surface issues or alternative approaches not previously considered
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ORGANIZE TO LEAD
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Healthy boards will participate in a collaborative process in forming the strategy, help establish the metrics to monitor execution, and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy from time to time A regularly scheduled strategy audit or clean slate retreat can bring the entire board and management team together to help to reset or refocus the strategy through a collaborative process This is much preferable to an isolated director proposing a new strategy that could be perceived as a very threatening action The governance/nominating committee is the linchpin in the organizing to lead model It performs much of the board s heavy lifting The structure and smooth operations of the board; director nominations; board, director, and CEO evaluations are impacted by the competency and work ethic of the governance committee While the audit committee is best staffed by individuals with financial expertise, the governance committee benefits from members possessing strong process and personnel skills A well-staffed and functioning committee allows the board to function effortlessly and focus more of its time on business issues
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Monitor the governance rating provided by ISS, CalPERS, GMI, and others provided for your company These metrics, combined with periodic governance audits, can identify areas for board improvement or reinforce that best practices are operational Formalize the process for conducting annual board evaluations Implement controls to contain litigation risk, allowing for an effective review Agree on board objectives, timing and administration of evaluations, and feedback mechanics with the board at the beginning of the year Conduct director evaluations to redirect or reinforce behaviors and include a self-evaluation Formally evaluate CEOs (include a CEO self-evaluation) and agree on a development plan
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