Thursday May 7, 2015
As the UK goes to the polls, every news channel, vox pop and exit poll is reporting that it’s ‘too close to call’; that it’s unlikely that any of the political parties will generate enough votes to form a majority; that we will face another hung parliament; that the political parties will grapple to form a potentially indecisive coalition government; that there will be another general by the end of this year.
I could go on listing the predictive and often unsettling stories flowing out of the national press, although I did watch an interesting documentary last week which suggested that the election might not be as close as the media circus is leading us to believe – let’s face it, there wouldn’t be much news for the papers and the pollsters if it was very obvious that there was a clear winner in the race.
When it comes to the general election, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what fate has in store for our government, but all the political hype made me think about the governing bodies of our businesses. I found myself asking whether indeed our boards are based on a majority government, led by CEOs and MDs or if they are moving closer to coalitions where savvy directors are grappling for their own share of power or working more cohesively and equally.
The latter situation is a good thing in many respects. Our businesses - like our nation - should be democratic with leaders from all parts of the organisation putting forward their points, sharing insight, breaking silos and pushing forward their own initiatives in order to achieve a successful overarching business strategy. Fresh ideas and challenges to convention are healthy in nurturing a culture of innovation and developing disruptive business plans.
However a by-product of a coalition of leaders around a board table is the danger that failure to reach agreement could emerge. Long winded presentations from board members could become nothing more than a form of filibustering. This behaviour could breed indecision and an indecisive board leaves itself vulnerable to weakness in the face of a VUCA - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous - business environment.
A board needs to be decisive and also united.
The major difference between a coalition board and a coalition government is that of culture.
Let’s take the example of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition government we have all learned to love over the past five years. Coming from differing political standpoints, the leaders in this coalition have different visions for the UK, along with different values and ultimately different goals.
That’s why, when Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, had to make compromises on his manifesto promises, it was much more painful for him, his party and their followers.
If you consider the business board room however, if board members share the corporate values, believe in a united business vision and are culturally aligned with the ultimate culture and mission of the organisation, they will be less likely to harbour ulterior motives. Theoretically in this situation, while passionate discussions and difficult conversations will occur, compromise and therefore progress will be easier to achieve.
When it comes to corporate culture organisations must clearly communicate this to all of their employees so the values of the business are lived and breathed by everyone, regardless of the level of seniority. This way the people that are disengaged with the culture and values will naturally remove themselves from the situation and the rest will be committed, motivated and engaged.
As a leader at board level, skills, knowledge and business acumen are of course vital, though a shared culture and values will be the lynch pin to constructive debate and progressive consensus.