All on the same side: as business moves out of the bunkers, it’s time to focus on contribution and strengthen relationships

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As the pandemic restrictions lift, businesses will look to surge ahead with their plans, be it launching a new product or moving into new markets. One thing is for certain – there will be plenty more surprises to come. That’s part of the territory for a start-up or a scale-up project, to run from one crisis to another. Successful businesses come through because they draw on the strengths of a small but committed number of professionals with a range of complementary skills. 

However, repeated COVID lockdowns may have left your leadership teams feeling disconnected and concerned about falling behind on their business goals. Months of working from home, with the dependence on remote communications, may have created misunderstandings between key members of the business.

We are increasingly seeing boards and executives at odds with each other – and the core issue is often a failure to communicate effectively, compounded by an inability to appreciate the other side’s point of view.

“Successful businesses come through because they draw on the strengths of a small but committed number of professionals with a range of complementary skills”. 

CEOs and the Board need to act as one

CEOs and boards are there to guide a business through choppy waters, and everyone must be pulling in the same direction, helping out and focussed on cooperation that delivers results. 

Our report on board member behaviour, ‘Villains vs. Value’, highlighted the importance of the physical circumstances around how people meet and the difference this can make to presence, engagement, and contribution. This is one area, of course, where almost everything has changed. 

No longer are teams brought together in the same room. Now they are scattered, working from home, on a screen or a phone line. It’s not the same, and meetings can quickly lose their sense of purpose. 

One of the core problems with online meetings is that slight issues can snowball, and over the past year we’ve seen a lot of “criticiser-defender” cycles emerge. 

This typically happens when board member advice sounds to a CEO executive like criticism, creating a defensive reaction. This provokes even more forceful ‘advice’ which leads to an entrenched defensive posture. Soon both parties are locked in a negative cycle, and what started as a small misunderstanding can break down the relationship. 

Breaking this vicious circle is critical if boards are to add value.

How CEOs can fix the simple things 

Ask for feedback 

After meetings, ask for feedback from all concerned. It is a simple way to show you are prepared to listen to their concerns. 

Give honest but measured rejections 

Business leaders can benefit enormously from becoming more skilled at rejecting advice and suggestions. The key is to be honest and clearly explain why you are rejecting it, stating that the issue is closed and no longer open for debate. If you don’t make this clear, it can erode a relationship. 

Show the Board some love

CEOs should show an understanding of the perspectives of the Board and remember that they bring special skills, a wide range of experience, and a deep commitment to seeing the business succeed. 

Invest in your leadership skills

Leaders can learn and practice the skills needed to drive maximum value from boards and investors. Knowing how to make a request properly, for example, is a skill which can be learnt and practised – one that is essential in business. One of the key factors is clarity, stating your position lucidly and succinctly.

“CEOs should show an understanding of the perspectives of the Board and remember that they bring special skills, a wide range of experience, and a deep commitment to seeing the business succeed.” 

   

The Board has a vital part to play 

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Know your strengths

For board members, our advice is to know your strengths and recognise those areas where you may not be the expert in the room. Be willing to hear about what you don’t know. 

Get Clued Up

Do your homework thoroughly so you know as much about the business and its markets as possible. Learn to restrain yourself in meetings, especially virtual ones, and do not let any frustrations show. Be challenging, yes, but also supportive

Follow a systematic decision-making process 

Both board members and CEOs need to remember the purpose of the board – above all, it exists to make the key decisions. Everyone needs to be able to trust the board to follow a systematic decision-making process and to prioritise decisions. 

Kick out the cynicism

All sides should strive to avoid cynicism which can be self-fulfilling. Don’t go into meetings expecting the worst. Bring your best game. 

Core for all involved

Time together is precious so use it wisely

When it is possible to be together in the same room, make it count. Our research shows there are many areas of the business which can be effectively run through online or remote meetings, but others where face-to-face communication is essential. If it is time to build alignment and consensus for core business decisions, get the leadership team in the same room if at all possible. 

“When it is possible to be together in the same room, make it count.”
Accept the decision and move on

If you make a suggestion that is rejected, accept the decision. Too often people in meetings will try to circle back and reopen topics. This is corrosive behaviour which is frustrating for all involved. Once the decision is made, move on. 

Kick off from a firm foundation

The way out of a crisis for a scale-up business is to have the board, and senior management all pulling in the same direction and working together as a unified team. Everyone has to play their part. 

For more information on behavioural styles and how they impact the board room, see our research paper, ‘Villains vs. Value’. Based on our interviews with participants from across the business ecosystem (to whom we are incredibly grateful for their insight); we provide new insights into the importance of board member behaviour on Scale-Ups; providing a comprehensive board value framework.

This article is based on our learnings, working with hundreds of mentors and leaders.  If you are ready for a conversation about how to improve the value and performance of your leadership team, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can find out more about our game-changing leadership programmes at horizon37.co.uk.