How can the board reset from crisis to business as usual?

In times of crisis many boards will be forced to revisit the line between board and management. When survival is on the line, the board needs to have its hand on the wheel, and be much more closely involved in the operations of the business. This is not problematic, and is to be expected in an effective governance structure.

However, what can often become problematic is when the storms recede and the organisation attempts to make the transition back towards standard operating procedure. In a number of review processes, we see this transition to normality can cause friction and problems between board and management.

Especially if the organisation has been in crisis for an extended period of time, this transition can be difficult. To make this behavioural transition work for board and management, both parties are likely to require a ‘reset’. A comprehensive review process that surfaces all underlying tensions can help to reset relationships for a return to normality.

As a crisis recedes, there are typically three causes of friction (which may often be interrelated):

  • Some directors maintain higher levels of operational involvement or intervention
  • Sustained board intervention makes management feel like they aren’t trusted to execute on the strategy
  • The board don’t feel like they have enough visibility as to the performance of the business

All of these areas are exacerbated if the line between board and management remains unclear. The highest value intervention for any board in these circumstances is to clearly define where the line between the board and management sits, and how this can be expected to play out in practice.

In addition, the board may wish to consider:

  • Revisiting the strategy and planning process. Often in crisis circumstances longer term planning has been neglected. The lack of an agreed view for the future can make the board less comfortable in delegating to management. Working together to revisit a strategy that all parties are comfortable with is a great way to ensure the board is more comfortable delegating to management.
  • Discussing with the management team an appropriate reporting framework and cadence so there is both visibility and control for the board in monitoring the performance of the business.

As part of making this transition it’s important not to slip into the mindset of good vs. bad behaviour. Even if they were frustrating or perceived as destructive, past behaviours allowed the organisation to survive, and as such, fulfilled their purpose. In this context there is no good and bad behaviour – just a set of behaviour that gives the organisation the best chance of success right now.

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