Feb 2010                                                                                                                    Issue 1
BoardWorks International
Welcome to this issue of Board Works
Welcome to this inaugural issue of our new, on-line subscriber periodical, Board Works. This replaces our previous printed periodical, Good Governance, which we have published since 1998. 
Board Works, which will also come to you bi-monthly, will continue to bring readers, the most up-to-date international thinking on a wide range of matters relating to boardroom effectiveness. Articles will be a mix of the philosophical and the practical.  Our aim is to inform but, even more so, to stimulate readers' thinking about the performance of the various types of governing boards they are involved with.
We hope you will find the material we provide both interesting and useful. By the way, there is no charge for Board Works.
In this issue we begin with an exploration of one of the most fundamental questions for any organisation's leadership. What is the true purpose of this organisation? (Is it Time to Revisit the Purpose of Your Organisation?). We then offer some ideas on a very simple technique for actively engaging participants in a board's most important deliberations (The Value of Visual Thinking in the Boardroom). Effective board-level decision making and risk management will be topics we return to frequently in future issues. In this issue we have reviewed a very useful book on 'predictable surprises'(Book Review). Finally, in a regular section in which we will refer to topical issues, we report on leading management thinker Professor Henry Mintzberg's recent discourse in the Wall Street Journal on why executive bonuses should not exist (Governance in the News)
Good reading
Graeme Nahkies
PS. From time to time we will also bring you information on other activities or publications that you or your organisation may find of value. In this issue you will find a link to information on our annual residential workshop exclusive to chief executives - 'Partnering With Your Board'.
In This Issue
Is it Time to Revisit the Purpose of Your Organisation?
The Value of Visual Thinking in the Boardroom
Book Review
Governance in the News
Professional Development
Have your Say
Articles Is it Time to Revisit the Purpose of Your Organisation?
Is it time to Revisit the Purpose of your Organisation?Some years ago, when commencing a client board's annual strategy session, I asked the question 'what business are you in?' It was a disability support organisation but the answers from both board members and executives alike boiled down to 'we are in the housing business.' This organisation, when originally established, had determined that their best strategy to assist their target client group was to provide accommodation with physical modifications appropriate to that group's particular disability. 
It turned out that, 40 years on, this organisation was no longer an exclusive supplier of modified housing for its client group and a number of other housing providers were doing a far better job.  The organisation's reputation was waning and its future was in doubt.  This was a classic example of how the clarity of an organisation's purpose can wane and become confused with a particular strategy.

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The Value of Visual Thinking in the Boardroom
 The Value of Visual Thinking in the Boardroom
Are your board meetings typically routine and dull?  Is what passes for board discussion dominated by one or two individuals? Are there some members of the board who hardly ever say a thing? Do some directors seem more interested in playing on their 'Blackberries' than following the progress of the meeting?  Do some board members seem completely oblivious to decisions made at last month's meeting?
If these or similar symptoms apply to your board it could indicate that the board is failing to engage its members in the type of conversations that are vital if it is to be an effective governing group.  Nothing good can come from disengaged and uncommitted directors and a lack of the collective consciousness that is needed for high quality decision making. 
Improving board member engagement can be achieved in a number of ways but one of the most effective is by visually 'mapping' the board's thinking on important matters. 
Book Review
Book - Predictable SurprisesAre Surprises Predicatable?
Authors Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins think so. Their book 'Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming and How to Prevent Them'* is a cautionary and convincing tale about unnecessary and avoidable failures of leadership. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the demise of Enron and its auditor Arthur Andersen.
These examples are both used in the opening chapters to illustrate how corporate and governmental leaders had all the necessary information to anticipate (and prevent) those catastrophic failures. Many more, similarly compelling examples are sprinkled throughout the book. In a sense, however, these are used simply to attract (and hold) the reader's attention. Notwithstanding the novel concept reflected in its title, at its heart this is a book about the various organisational decision making vulnerabilities to which our boards and executive teams (and for that matter our families) are all potentially susceptible. It is a book about how to recognise and hopefully avoid the acting out of these vulnerabilities and the consequences that 'predictably' follow.
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Governance in the News
Blowing the Whistle on Executive BonusesPoliticians and regulators around the world continue to focus attention on the vexed issue of executive bonuses, particularly those paid by companies receiving extensive taxpayer support. To date the debate in the public domain has tended to be on the quantum of the bonuses rather than on their actual existence. Now Professor Henry Mintzberg, a leading thinker on a wide range of organisational performance and management issues has raised a more fundamental issue. "The problem isn't that they (bonuses) are poorly designed. The problem is that they exist [at all]."
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