Does your board have a shared WHY-HOW-D0 statement?


It’s not surprising in these times of extreme left and right political activity that “the meaning” industry is flourishing.

Simon Sinek is one of its leading experts. He has made the word “why” his own. That’s an achievement that merits awe, if not envy.

Then there is the “purpose” movement which takes an academic approach to the question of why an organisation does what it does.

It draws on philosophy, religions and academic research to help organisations to become more “purpose driven”.

Between the why people and the purpose people there is a broad spectrum of thinkers and speakers who address the reason why organisations do what they do in a variety of thoughtful ways.

Having addressed the issue of why, the next logical step is how? Fortunately, this is not a new area of reflection. How is about strategy and strategy is a multi-billion dollar business.

The strategy thinkers are impressive. They include Michael Porter, Jim Collins, and Clayton Christensen. Their books will never go out of print.

The strategy businesses are also impressive. McKinsey, BCG and Deloitte to name three. Then there’s a myriad number of boutiques.

When your board has sorted its why and its how it then has to decide what to “do”.

Do is about conduct. And conduct is defined as observed behaviour over time. I use the word behaviour and not the plural behaviours – the most commonly used form – deliberately, not pedantically.

Behaviour is a plural noun and means “the way in which one acts, especially towards others”. The word behaviours is a coined word and usually implies poor behaviour.

I’ve never heard anyone in a business situation say “there are some very positive behaviours on our board.”

Behaviour is neither poor nor positive, but complicated. That’s why the plural noun captures the context best. The use of language in this context matters.

Behaviour, or behaviours if you must, is also a growing industry best exemplified in the growth of the study of emotional intelligence – EI or EQ.

Daniel Goleman had cornered the EI market brilliantly. Like Simon Sinek, he has wrestled this topic to the ground and made it his own. He communicates tricky issues, simply. This is high art.

The EI movement is, in my view, an offshoot of “therapy”. The less well-known geniuses of therapy include Moreno (Psychodrama) and Perls (Gestalt). The popular ones include Tolle and M. Scott Peck.

There you have it. A three hundred word precis of the Why-How-Do market. So why can’t your board just get on with it?

The answer is that it’s hard. And the reason it’s hard it because it involves change. And change is hard because it consists of a stretch. And, ask any athlete, a stretch is hard.

Moreover, it involves not only your board changing but each of your board members changing their behaviour because your board is merely a coalition of the individuals on it for a short time.

And each member can’t change their behaviour unless they confront their personal Why-How-Do issues. And that’s not just hard; it’s painful.

And that’s why boards frequently don’t have a shared Why-How-Do statement. It’s painful for the members to write their own, let alone agree on a collective statement.

But once achieved, there’s no stopping that business. Do you know who on your board, consciously or unconsciously, might prevent it from framing its Why-How-Do statement? Is it you?

Start by addressing your Why-How-Do statement. Then, if you change, they will too.

Ciarán Fenton
I help directors on boards relate better to themselves, their colleagues and businesses


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