How do you ask about the elephant in the room?
Aide de MD supports and guides Owners/MDs of their own businesses, and gives them the confidence and support to grow strategically. One of the many challenges I see in business, is poor internal communication. This can be with staff, management or as the owner of the business with a Partner/MD. In my experience, external communication with clients, culture matching and customer service feature in the company strategy, but internal day to day conversations are often ignored.
The Boardroom is key to ensuring the business is led with open messaging and the first place to look for transparent, honest and uncluttered communication.
Interestingly, the most intelligent and business-savvy people can be daunted by conversations with their peers. This weakness or lack of confidence in their communication skills can cause astronomical problems if not addressed. I wrote a while ago in the AFR about women asking for pay rises and how they can sometimes consider it an emotional, personal challenge rather than a business proposal (http link to my article on website). This personal inability to confront issues can appear in the Boardroom as well and can be a major cause of concern for everyone in the business from the top through to the most junior staff.
In the Boardroom, The Chair is “invited” to be responsible for directing conversations and ensuring that everyone has a “seat at the table” (Lean In, Sheryl Sanberg). All committee members should be mature and experienced enough, and hopefully have sufficient EQ to ensure that the elephant in the room is not ignored. Seniority and allowing conversations to be dismissed because of the resulting light on ineffective management is not acceptable.
For example, the organisation I’ve referred to previously, *Big thinkers International runs a monthly Board Meeting. The focus is on strategy, communication, risk management and financial governance. As Chair, I presume that each person attending has prepared, read their papers and followed up on actions promised previously. On occasion, developments occur which prevent these actions, i.e. legal, staff or product changes.
Accountability dictates that they will be upfront and communicate their reasons for non-compliance in advance or at the introductory section of the meeting. Most directors do so, however, occasionally there will be a defensive “I’ve been too busy” or “well, you know I’ve been focussing on X” which is understandable. However, the elephant in the room is that everyone understands that progress in projects may be delayed but it is wiser to volunteer this upfront rather than responding in a dismissive manner.
How do you manage this?
There are different options:
1) Ensure that the person leading the meeting keeps in regular contact outside of the monthly events, a phone call mid-break to keep everyone on track and open the opportunity for discussion.
2) Accountability starts in the Boardroom so when the agenda is distributed in advance, send a missive explaining the delay, and initiate a discussion in the meeting.
3) Don’t presume that seniority or directorship brings good communication skills – ask questions, and keep asking questions.
4) Have a quiet word in advance with the Chair or as Chair, ensure you discuss this in advance with the offending committee member
5) Don’t assume, investigate and address the “elephant in the room” until any suspicions regarding “shirking” or “avoidance” behaviour is dismissed
*Big Thinkers International – an imaginary business name used to protect client confidentiality
** Elephant in the Room Pinot Noir, I haven’t opened this, just love the name!