Frustration in the boardroom
I constantly hear stories of tension between board members causing exhaustion, frustration and even depression. The bullied feel humiliated, the eager unheard and the anxious unsupported. Slights, real and imagined, are harboured; baseless assumptions inform action, or worse, inaction. Unconscious behaviour abounds.
My clients tell me that the most significant barrier to working productively together are “personality issues”. They feel hopeless that the conflicts, which frequently simmer under the surface, can’t be fixed.
Unacknowledged personality issues hurt the bottom line
Some directors I meet are blissfully unaware of these issues; others are not but shy away from these problems because they don’t know how to deal with them.
But the costs and opportunity costs to the business of not confronting behavioural issues are incalculable. I would be a very rich man if I had a pound every time a director said to me “If only we would do x, we could save y cost or avoid y risk or generate z revenue”. Why don’t you?, I ask. “He/she/they won’t wear it,” they assume. Delete as appropriate.
Behavioural issues are notoriously difficult to address. So, we avoid them. But what if there was a way to address them, incrementally, safely and with a high chance of success?
Least Likely To Say
Your business could outperform its targets, get more done and with happier employees if every director, without exception, improved their worst behaviour. Let’s call it their DWB – Director’s Worst Behaviour. No one I’ve worked with fails to understand what this means and what impact it has.
By worst, I mean that outstanding behavioural weakness that we all have and that drives everyone else on the board mad because it adversely affects them but which we struggle to acknowledge, let alone change.
I find that a good way to get an accurate list of the individual DWBs on a board is to facilitate an exercise, at a plenary session of the board, called “Least Likely To Say” preceded by a series of 1-1 sessions with each director to build trust.
In this exercise, each director tells each colleague what they are least likely to say. For example, the micro-manager is least like to say “Just get on with it, no need to check in with me”; the person who talks over people: “What do you think?”; and the solo player “How can I help?” And so on.
This exercise rarely fails to generate the embarrassed laughter of recognition which we are more familiar with in the company of true friends, who rarely let us get away with anything. In my experience, the degree of consensus on the DWB list surprises no one. If done with a light touch and kindly, the impact can be pleasantly cathartic.
Moreover, by avoiding the shaming language often used in board rooms directors can encourage colleagues to confront tricky behavioural issues which they otherwise would bury.
People don’t change, do they?
“This is all pie in the sky”, I hear you say. “Leopards don’t change spots. It’s dog eat dog in the boardroom. People just don’t change. This stuff won’t work on our board.”
Agreed, if you use traditional change processes. That’s because either they don’t work or if they do, they don’t last because, under pressure, everyone tends to revert to type.
But people can and do change behaviour if incentivised to do so. And what better incentive than knowing that if you change your behaviour, every other board member will do so too? It’s simple. It works. I’ve witnessed it.
In my Small Change Programme, I focus on helping each director to acknowledge to their board colleagues their worst behaviour – i.e., their DWB. Then I support each to agree and implement, over a period of six to nine months, an unwritten behaviour contract undertaking to change just ten interactions in every hundred about that behaviour. That’s just 10% change, hence small change. But even small change is hard to do, and so my programme is designed to help CEOs and boards do it.
For example, one micro-manager I worked with undertook to micro-manage ten times less out of every hundred interactions.
The micro-manager, who proceeded to change his behaviour as agreed, courageously acknowledged that never being allowed to fail in his early years was probably the cause of his behaviour, and was pleasantly surprised at how more motivated his team was, how much more time he had and what new things he could do with the time released from his micro-managing. No wonder he did, given how much time he had wasted micro-managing.
I’m offering a free one-hour telephone or video workshop on my Small Change Toolkit to help you start the process yourself. The toolkit is a set of concepts and models which you can take away from the one hour workshop and use with your colleagues. I offer this as an incentive for you to engage in a conversation with me with a view to persuading your board to sign up for my Small Change Programme, but if you don’t, that‘s fine too, you still get your free workshop.
If you would like to arrange a free one-hour telephone or video Skype workshop with me, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07966168874. You can read more about me and my model on http://www.ciaranfenton.com