This extends to matters to which boards have never traditionally paid much attention, such as organisational culture, money laundering, cyber risk and social licence to operate.None of these can or should be side-stepped. They all affect organisational wellbeing, and many carry legal requirements with serious penalties (and often personal liability) for non-compliance. For boards taking their organisational leadership role seriously, however, these new demands can be overwhelming.
How should boards respond?
By holding more and longer meetings, perhaps? Whether a well-paid corporate director or a volunteer board member, expanding the amount of time applied to the role seems neither attractive nor likely. Many people are already on too many boards—or at least fully committed with other demands—so this is not a realistic option, beyond a little more stretch at the margin. Nor is it desirable. Holding longer meetings, or more of them, creates other kinds of problem. Without an uncommon level of discipline, many boards unconsciously use the extra time to expand into the management domain. It is too easy for a board to forget that its role is to ensure the organisation is well managed, without doing the managing itself.
Another concern about longer meetings is concentration span. It is debatable that any group—not least a board of directors, each anxious to attend to other matters competing for their attention—can concentrate on a cognitively demanding agenda beyond 3 or 4 hours.
Another option is to try and push more agenda items into a ‘normal’ length meeting. This is hardly a solution either. By cramming the board agenda, most boards set themselves up to fail. When board meetings become a race against time, even the most important items on the agenda are unlikely to get the attention they need. This deficiency increases as the meeting closure time looms.
When meetings do little more than tick off items on a long agenda, board members leave with a sense of frustration rather than accomplishment. They know that, once again, important conversations about matters central to the board’s responsibilities and the organisation’s success have been cut short or not even begun. Important questions were not only unanswered but unasked. Much of their valuable board ‘face time’ was simply frittered away.