What operating boards can learn from Game of Thrones

Last week, whilst home alone and idly channel hopping, I stumbled across the Top 20 Game of Thrones Moments as voted by “you the viewers”.

“I’m-not-a-Game-of-Thrones-viewer” I shouted slowly at the telly. This behaviour is an indication, I’m told, of early onset Victor Meldrew.

In truth, I have in fact watched bits of the series when battling to switch channels with my daughter, and losing those battles.

“Gratuitous sex and violence. Gratuitous-sex-and-violence”, I said – twice – when asked what I thought of it.

But somehow, that evening on my own, there seemed to be a difference between being forced to watch an episode and analysing a Top 20 countdown. Countdowns are different.

And Top 20s are special, no matter what the subject. I caught that bug from Radio Luxembourg at boarding school, ’72-’78. Never recovered. I’ll watch a Top 20 anything.

So, I decided that I would endure watching The Game of Thrones Top 20 Moments for the benefit of my customers, readers and, I suppose, as a kind of study in anthropology.

I stuck it out. Clip after clip of the most unimaginable violence and every manner of sexual intercourse known to man, woman or beast. These were inter cut with “comment and analysis” from a wide spectrum of GOT (is that the right acronym?) fans. Some of these were even adults.

The series apparently has made television history for one reason or another and that in itself must mean that it might contain “learnings” for CEOs and boards about “behaviours”. I’ll do my best:

First, bad people do bad things to good people and get their comeuppance, sooner or later. True, even in banking scandals.

Second, some people like watching other people suffer. It’s called “schadenfreude” whose emotional sibling in the boardroom is shaming.

Third, if you press your thumbs into someone’s eyes as hard as you possibly can you will make a mighty mess. Although there are directors on boards who dream of doing that to other directors there is no known record of it happening at a board meeting. That said, the emotional equivalent is a regular occurrence.

So, should boards use Game of Thrones at their next training day? No. The truth is there’s nothing in the series about behaviour that most board members don’t know already.

There’s lots of familiar M&A with the emphasis on the A. The series contains shed loads of hostile takeovers but without any bids. And there’s no shortage of SM scenes – what board of directors can honestly claim zero tolerance for emotional sado-masochism?

And my favourite moment? None. T’was all gratuitous-sex-and-violence. But perhaps, on reflection, there was one moment that could be termed redemptive. And that was when Hodor holds the door (hence his name, geddit?) to prevent a hoard of zombies killing his mate.

Reminds me of a story I heard years ago about a senior executive who deliberately took a “hit for the team” in his annual performance review so that the scores in the forced distribution bell curve system worked out ok overall.

Whilst I wouldn’t condone such behaviour, no matter how well intentioned, it nevertheless demonstrates that sheer madness isn’t restricted to television drama.

To be fair to Game of Thrones – it doesn’t pretend to be what it’s not; unlike some organisations which still use performance management systems that masquerade as mutton dressed as lamb.



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