An HBR article piqued my interest: “Your Board Needs a People Committee” . In it, the authors provide services which a talent-focus on the part of a subset of the board could bring to helping the leadership teams they support in attracting, retaining and developing their #1 asset. The authors assert that the typical annual reviews of people data conducted by most boards are insufficient as these only provide lagging evidence of where corrective change might be needed.
I realized the same benefits could arise if boards took an active interest in how companies are going about increasing their business agility.
A year ago, I had written an article covering the benefits of a top-down and bottom-up approach to improving organizational agility as in many companies middle management is where transformative change goes to die. A top-down approach is likely to be side-stepped or given lip service by middle managers and might be actively resisted by teams. A bottom-up approach might work for individual teams but to get commitment from the delivery and control partners which make up value streams, top-down support is essential.
But the fly in this particular ointment is that senior leaders rarely stay put.
It is not uncommon for a senior executive to change portfolios every two years, especially if they are being groomed for a C-level position. I’ve seen more than my fair share of transformations which were cancelled or rebooted prematurely because the original sponsoring executives had moved on and their replacements either felt that the changes were no longer a priority or they had a different vision for the desired end state.
We know that the road to increased business agility is a long and arduous one for large companies. The likelihood that the primary executive sponsor or key members of the steering committee will remain the same over the journey is quite low. Given this, wouldn’t it make sense to actively engage the board to guide (and in some cases drive) aspects of the transformation?
Beyond the issue of executive attrition, there are a couple of other reasons why this is worth considering:
- Board members are usually involved with multiple companies and could help the leadership team in establishing realistic targets as well as in identifying innovative practices which they have seen work elsewhere.
- Increases in business agility should lead to greater value realization and improved talent retention. Both of these should be of great interest to boards, so why would they not want to be more actively engaged?
Of course, to make this work, the board and the executive team will need to develop rules of engagement and some definition of roles and responsibilities to reduce the likelihood of board members overstepping their boundaries.
So if you are leading a business agility transformation and have got buy-in from your senior leadership team, your selling work is not done. Take it to the board!
(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)