Top 10 Issues Facing Corporate Boards in 2017

Posted by Kristin Arnold on August 8, 2017

Corporate boards often talk about strategic issues at their meetings – but in my experience as a professional meeting facilitator, they talk about the strategic issues they know about.  The ones they can see on their horizon.  But what about the issues that are a tad bit out of their reach?  Issues that aren’t even on their radar?  Issues they should be talking about, but aren’t on the agenda?

The Women Corporate Directors Foundation recently put together this list of the top 10 issues facing corporate boards in 2017.  Which of these is your board discussing now?  More importantly, which should they be discussing, but are not?

  1. Disruption Must Meet a Need.  There is a reason disruption is at the top of the list as I believe everyone is talking about disruptions in the marketplace.  How Uber and Airbnb have disrupted the taxi and hotel industry.  Yet there are two sides to this disruptive coin:  Who is going to disrupt your business and how can you disrupt your own business model?  Vinod Kumar, CEO of Tata Communications said, “The definition of disruption needs to go beyond technology and re-evaluate the business model and business processes.  It has to be centered most importantly, on the evolving needs of the customer.”
  2. Shareholder Activists Can Offer Real Value.  Activist investors have long been held at arm’s length, but nowadays, boards are embracing their experience and diverse points of view.   Are we leveraging their expertise?
  3. Business Democratization.  “With both consumers and younger employees, there has been a massive leveling of power,” says Laurie Ann Goldman, Director at ServiceMaster Global Holdings.  When information flows in all directions, boards must be receptive, encouraging, and leverage the collaboration.
  4. Innovation Culture Requires Conscious Cultivation.  To succeed in a disruptive and chaotic marketplace, you have to cultivate a culture that encourages innovation and collaboration at and between all levels. What are we doing to intentionally foster the culture we want (vs. what we have?)
  5. Workforce Transformation Supplants Workforce Replacement.  What are the new skill sets we need?  “We focus on employee transformation, and letting people be able to move along with us as opposed to thinking about replacement,” says Joyce Roche, a director at AT&T, Macy’s, Inc., and Tupperware Brands Corporation.
  6. Innovative Partnerships.  Discover unique, collaborative partnerships that unlock new opportunities for growth.  Are we exploring collaborating with other companies and organizations to satisfy a new or growing need?
  7. Business Fundamentals. Businesses have gotten so complex that companies can lose sight of the business basics – the “blocking and tackling” [my term] that makes a business run smoothly and profitably.  Are we efficiently and effectively executing on the “simple stuff” [WCB term] that drives our customers crazy?
  8. Crisis Demand Decision-Making.  We’re living in a 24/7 world, and boardrooms need to act even more swiftly, based on limited information.  Diane de Saint Victor, General Counsel at conglomerate ABB, Ltd, says, “In a crisis, it’s a matter of hours – there is an element of urgency and a need for speed in the boardroom.”  Can your board respond swiftly in the face of a crisis?
  9. Cybercrime Puts Accountability On The Full Board.  Cybersecurity is no longer the domain of the IT group – it is now the responsibility of the board.  Nicole Friedlander, Special Counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell cautions, “If your company is breached, this discussion will help protect it, because regulators and private litigants have been challenging boards about what they did ahead of time to assess and mitigate cybersecurity risk.”
  10. Path To Board Consensus Shifts with Gender Diversity.  Having more women in the boardroom challenges boards to ask questions they wouldn’t otherwise ask and improve the quality of their decisions.  What are you doing to recruit women on to your boards and is the board dynamics encouraging that healthy, constructive discussion?

All of these issues are worthy of discussion at your next board meeting…but just pick one to start.  Tee up the topic, discuss it with no apparent goal – other than to understand the board members’ viewpoints.  Once the board has had an interesting discussion that probes many facets to the issue, then decide if there is anything the board wants to DO as a result of that conversation.

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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