Building a Forward-Looking Board
Boards need to look further out than anyone else in an organization. Winning boards will be those that work in the spirit of continuous improvement at every meeting, while always keeping long-term strategies top of mind. Governance suffers most when directors spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror and not enough time scanning the road ahead. The key is to develop a dynamic board agenda that highlights forward-looking activities and initiatives. It is impossible to implement such an agenda without a solid foundation, though, meaning the right directors, knowledgeable about their roles and able to commit sufficient time. An important step is defining the board's role clearly. Among the roles of a well-functioning board are setting strategy, monitoring risks and succession planning. Board members seeking to play a constructive, forward-looking role must have real knowledge of their organizations' operations, markets and competitors.

The challenge is to build processes that tap the accumulated expertise of these professionals as they chart a course forward for the company or association. The article's author lists four ways to encourage such a forward-looking mindset. One, require the board to study the external landscape. Two, make strategy part of the board's DNA. After all, the central role of the board is to co-create and ultimately agree on strategy and direction. Three, "unleash the full power of your people." In this regard, forward-looking boards are powerfully positioned to focus on long-term talent-development efforts because they understand the strategy and can override some of the personal ties that cloud decision-making over appointments. Finally, anticipate the existential risks. While it has long been understood that overall responsibility for risk management lies with boards, they often overlook such existential risks as cybercrime that can harm companies and associations to a far greater extent than more readily identifiable risks.
McKinsey Quarterly (02/14) Casal, Christian; Caspar, Christian
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