This blog post is based on an episode from The Corporate Director Podcast, hosted by Dottie Schindlinger and Meghan Day, with special guests Laurie Yoler and Annie Kors. Laurie Yoler is on the boards of Church & Dwight, Bose, Zoox, and Noon Home. She is also a founding member of the board of directors for Tesla. Annie Kors is the lead researcher for the Diligent Institute, the governance think tank and research arm for Diligent Corporation.
Insights are the lifeblood of directors. With today’s increasingly rapid flow of information, directors want more data and more research, and they need it faster.
This week we show board members how to obtain those insights, which research areas to follow, and how to enable your board to leverage their individual strengths to ask the right questions. We interviewed board member Laurie Yoler about her perspective.
The Board-Level Hunger for Data
Data permeates every part of a company now. It’s accessible at every juncture and needed for every decision. Everyone craves it.
Directors are no exception. Further, they’re not always willing or able to wait until the corporate secretary or general counsel can create a great deck or packet of information on a development. Board members will simply perform their own research.
There are two primary reasons for this change: The workplace culture is less formal and director engagement more palatable, and the speed of information is such that not having the right information at the right time is a risk directors aren’t willing to take.
So the question isn’t: Should directors research?
The appropriate question is: What should directors research?
Yoler gave 5 tips for directors to help steer their strategic research to make the most informed decisions, as rapidly as possible:
1: Consider the Geopolitical & Economic Landscape
Yoler stays in-the-know on any developing legal issues (e.g., tax regulations, GDPR-type cybersecurity concerns, etc.), the business landscape, and the economy in general, and specific issues for each location where the business operates, geopolitical issues.
2: Know Your Company’s Top 3 or 4 Competitors
You also must know: What is happening with my company’s 3 or 4 closest competitors? What industry moves are they making, and are there any new developments, technologies, or investments we should know about?
3: Your Board Members Should Study, But Stay Focused
Ensure the other board members understand their goal is to ask questions and not to go off into the weeds too much. Each should leverage their strengths, backgrounds, and expertise, but the main goal is to help the organization uncover problems.
4: Leverage the Power of Diversity on Your Board
A board with a diverse background will enable everyone to ask all the necessary questions, because different backgrounds offer different perspectives. For example, many of Yoler’s co-board members are from the audit side (often ex-CFOs), so they’ll dive into the financials more than she will, and they will likely be more researched on new regulatory issues relating to finance.
Yoler is typically on the Nom-Gov or Compensation committees, plus she’s a technologist, so she dives deep into issues pertaining to her expertise, such as cybersecurity.
5: Communicate With the Other Board Members
Yoler sends notes to the rest of the board when she hears something interesting (in a book, an article, or at a conference). She leaves her opinion out, and focuses on the objective, situational developments. These notes often lead into productive conversations offline, and another board member will often say something like: “That topic was powerful. Were you simply offering information, or do you believe we need additional implementation?”
Theranos & The Stanford Directors’ Consortium
Yoler left us with 2 thoughts:
Check out Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. The book details the rise and fall of Theranos, and brings up great questions for boards, like: Do we perform enough due diligence as a board before an acquisition, or do we often jump too quickly because we’re concerned about the momentum of a deal or outside competition?
Secondly, at the Stanford Directors’ Consortium she recently attended, one of the topics was determining trends in top-performing CEOs. After studying 2,500 CEOs, the study determined numerous characteristics the high-performing CEOs had, but Yoler pointed out 3 that stood out. Highest-performing CEOs:
- Were execution-focused versus focused on being agreeable.
- Had charisma versus analytical and detail-oriented skills
- Were strategic and creative versus having a strict managerial style of holding people accountable.
This post is based on Episode 2 of The Corporate Director Podcast, hosted by Dottie Schindlinger and Meghan Day, with guests Annie Kors and Laurie Yoler. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to the podcast here.
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen here.