The board of directors knows everything. Or do they?
By virtue of their stature and prominence both within a corporation and outside, there is a somewhat unspoken belief that directors on a board already have all the experience and knowledge that they need. But in today’s hyper-evolving and hyper-competitive business environment this is no longer the case. Boards like everyone else must continue to learn, transform and improve their knowledge and skills…indefinitely.
This may be a tough pill to swallow for some boards. Historically they were largely made up of CEOs and in many cases they were immune to questions and impervious to the requirements and demands of regular employees or others working their way to the top. However, the tide has shifted and today’s directors are scrutinized and held far more accountable than ever before. To live up to their expectations, boards would be wise to consider for themselves a culture of continuous learning. Actually, considering it is not enough, adopting it would go a long way towards keeping their companies relevant and competitive.
So what does this really mean? How does a board begin to focus on continuous learning? To be effective, directors first need to appreciate the value of continuous learning. They must see it as a way to deliberately and regularly improve their performance and hence that of the company they are involved with. They must get rid of their contentment and feel a need to do better. Complacency is the antithesis of progress.
Continuous learning can take a variety of forms but at its most elemental it involves consistent improvement of skills and knowledge. For boards this can include working to enhance the ability to think strategically, to make decisions, and to evaluate imperfect information. It can also encompass communication skills, listening skills, questioning skills, and essentially any of the variety of talents and expertise that board directors are required to possess. Technology skills and even social media familiarity are other areas that boards need to perpetually become more conversant about.
Continuous learning for the board should always entail keeping fully aware of any new developments in the company or industry it is involved in. No company or industry is static and what directors assumed to be normative last year or even last month may no longer be the case. In terms of company and industry knowledge, boards may already feel that they are ever-improving their expertise. However in a board culture of continuous learning this is not taken for granted, rather there are very deliberate initiatives and experiences that allow directors to grow and evolve.
To create a board culture of continuous learning, the board must first agree that this is important. They must then determine their goals and what needs to be learned? What type of knowledge or skills are missing or below par? This will guide the type of resources that are required whether they be classes, coaches or experiences. It is important to remember that one size does not fit all. Directors will have various strengths and weaknesses. They will also have differing appetites for continuous learning; however, no matter their propensity for this, all directors should be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to improve themselves. Evaluating the tools, programs, and ultimate progress is also important so that the culture of continuous learning is continuously improving. Remember, it is never too late to learn. And as John F. Kennedy once said, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”