Shaking up your board

By Meghan Juday

When adding diversity to your board, don't expect new directors to fall into old rhythms


If you’ve recently taken steps to add demographic diversity to your board, don’t expect your new directors to fit into your established communication styles. Here’s some advice for companies seeking to shake things up by adding diversity to the boardroom.

1. Slow down the pace. Longer tenured directors should ask others what they think — and pause before speaking to leave room for the newer folks to speak up. 

2. Facilitate. Board chairs should expect to change their facilitation techniques to embrace all of the communication styles in the room. Change the dialogue by going around the room or asking the newer directors to contribute first.

3. Adjust the agenda. Leave more space on the agenda for dialogue. We leave an open strategy discussion topic on our board agenda, giving us space to ask directors what’s on their minds. 

4. Change the management presentations. Gone are the days when management spends 80% to 90% of their time presenting to the board. Some board chairs I know don’t allow management to present more than two slides, even if there are 20 in their deck. 

5. Change director expectations. Just as management needs to change how they present to the board, the directors need to adjust the amount of preparation they are doing before the board meeting. Directors should come to each board meeting with a shapable perspective on each agenda topic and a good dose of curiosity about what others think. Directors should be prepared to jump into each agenda topic with minimal stage-setting.

6. Move more to the committees. As the agenda changes to allow more room for discussion, boards should ensure that they have the appropriate committees, with comprehensive charters. Pushing work to the committees is one of the best ways to make more room for full-board discussions. 

7. Implement board evaluations. Engage a third-party firm to conduct a thorough board evaluation, learn how to improve board dynamics, and understand what is working and what needs to be adjusted. Ensure that all feedback is captured and tracked in an action item list. 

Boards should be in a constant state of refreshment, both from a composition perspective and from a governance perspective. Governance excellence is a journey that all boards should take. 

Meghan Juday is the chairman of Ideal Industries.

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