Francesca Ecsery is a Portfolio Non-Executive Director with 23+ years experience in both blue chip companies and start-ups in the Digital / Retail / FMCG / Leisure travel industries. She has a Special expertise in multi-platform consumer Marketing, Branding and Commercial strategies which deliver growth and profits. Currently NED in a diverse range of listed companies from Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust to Good Energy Group. Following a NEDonBoard panel evening , we asked Francesca about board expectations and her top techniques to use when a board member voice goes unheard.
What do NEDs, CEOs and Chairmen expect from their fellow board members ?
The most important thing is that you have intelligence. That’s when things work out best. The other items are that you are able to think strategically about the priorities of the business, about the business itself and it’s business model, and the fact that you are either familiar or experienced with the challenges that the business is facing, or the industry that they’re in, or the function that you are trying to represent on the board. So it’s a matter of being able to contribute tangibly to issues.
They’re looking for a collaborative working style, the fact that you have emotional intelligence so that when you make a point it’s more about constructive challenging than walking all over the flower beds. And then to have a backbone; to have a spine; to be able to confront the emotionally charged issues or the difficult topics and to be able to do them in an elegant way to get a result and a positive outcome.
Then to be able to add value to the executives, not just the board and the non-executives. So that’s also very important because if you have a functional expertise or an industry expertise, sometimes you’ll be asked to mentor either the commercial director or the IT director, the digital director, and it would be churlish if you have the experience not to do that. So that’s also expected and required.
Finally, not to have an agenda, so to come with an open mind and to have the best interest of the company at heart.
Where are critical friends important?
A critical friend is somebody who has the backbone to be able to tackle the difficult issues, the thorny issues in an elegant and emotionally intelligent way; it’s somebody who feels they have an obligation to dissent if, for whatever reason, they don’t agree. But equally because they don’t have an agenda – they won’t die in a ditch or paint themselves into a corner if they don’t win the argument.
It’s especially important when the chairman or the CEO are not doing their job. If the chairman is not chairing properly or the CEO is not driving the strategy properly, then somebody has to go and tackle that issue, and it doesn’t have to be a big shouting match. It can be done outside the board meeting. But it’s all about having the courage and the clarity to be able to tackle those issues.
What do you do when your voice goes unheard?
That’s difficult. And you have to be fairly confident because the conversations at a board meeting are going at a pace. If your voice goes unheard you’ve got a couple of choices. Clearly try to tackle it verbally at the meeting and if you need to, you interrupt. I mean, it’s not like other people don’t interrupt you, so interrupt. That’s not the best way but at least they’ll notice you. If not, then take the chairman aside and sort outside the board meeting and raise all these points – “I’d like you to give me your time. If you don’t want me to speak about this at the meeting then you have to explain to me why not – otherwise it is important to me.”
You can also make sure that you go on the record. So, during the meeting there’s somebody taking minutes; you make sure that your particular opinion is noted and you have an opportunity at the next meeting to verify that those have been captured.
So there are various techniques. And then, look for allies in the boardroom. Normally as a non-executive director you don’t have to bother about politics , but some politics 101 doesn’t go a miss. It’s important to find somebody on the board who agrees with you and then agree a way forward on how you can make sure that that your point are taken up.
Finally, get an outside coach or consultant to help you, and this is where you explain to the coach, your brief and all desired outcomes. Clearly the coach needs to then coach the CEO or the chairman and manage that process and hopefully bring a resolution about all desired outcomes. So, don’t give up, there are many ways, and it is your obligation to dissent, so if you’re not in agreement you can’t just sort of lie in a corner. You have to make sure that your voice is heard one way or another.
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