Getting the ‘board timeline’ in balance

Getting the ‘board timeline’ in balance.

So, do you, at board level, spend more time looking backwards in time, at the present issues or forward in time.

It is so easy to get stuck in mainly looking backwards at reports focusing on what has happened in the business as opposed to looking at the right balance of past, present and future.

The board’s primary perspective should be future orientated, it should be positioning decisions made today in the context of how this will affect the business into the future and looking at backward-looking reports in the same future orientated context. This is, as many boards know, easier said than done.

What are some tools to get the ‘board timeline’ balanced?

First, it is vital to structure the board’s activity into 3 broad categories – focusing on the three timeline perspectives.

  1. Determining the inputs of the business – this looks forward and asks (and answers) the question ‘what does the company require to move forward to achieve its goals and objectives?’. Inputs cover everything from resourcing the business to covering the strategic and business model requirements of the business along with the value framework within which the business should operate. The primary input tool for directors to use is the creation and maintenance of a robust policy framework that makes the business tangible and directs the behaviour of the people in the business. Determining the inputs in the business is like planning the journey, assessing the road conditions, ensuring the vehicle is appropriate and prepared to face the journey.
  2. Providing oversight looks at the present and ongoing activity of the business. Oversight looks at the entire operation of the business, at the big picture, to assess the progress of the business along the required strategic path. Oversight provides the opportunity to tweak and adjust the direction business of the as required to keep it on track. Oversight is like looking through the windscreen of the car, looking for the continual stream of indicators and signs that demonstrate the progress of the business along the road towards the desired goal.
  3. Looking at outputs is the process of assessing how the business has done – it is based on a stream of appropriate, well-structured reports providing accurate and appropriate information. Looking at outputs is like looking in the rear-view mirror of the car to search for indications of what lies behind in order to make forward-looking decisions. In the same way that we reference our rear view mirrors to assess traffic conditions especially when making changes to our route (lane changes, turns etc.) Looking at outputs should provide appropriate information into decision-making, especially when facing changes looking forward.
Secondly, a well-structured board meeting needs to be well-facilitated. The chairman of the board should keep the directors focused on these three timeline perspectives in a balanced and appropriate way. Directing discussions and debates with the timeline in mind is a good filter that can keep board discussions on track and undistorted.

Thirdly, each individual director should be aware of their own bias. Some of us are better at future thinking, some better at now thinking and others better at backward-looking thinking. By being aware of our own bias we can firstly avoid the trap of thinking that our thinking is the only kind of thinking and secondly we can add value where we function best.

Getting the board timeline balanced is a vital step in increasing the effectiveness of boards – and something to take seriously if you want to take your board to the next level.

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