Future Proof your Board of Directors

By Les Wallace, PhD

“Nothing ages faster than the future.”

The early 21st Century taught us that while we can’t always predict the future, having a future tense focused board of directors reduces surprise, enables nimbleness in response to sudden change, and seizes opportunities ahead of the average organization.

  1. Spend 50 percent to 75 percent of each board meeting on strategy: review and update a strategic objective, discuss a significant trend—bring an article, book, or data to look over.
  2. Explore issues and opportunities at your annual retreat with paradigm shifting questions: “If money were no object what would we do?” “What would our younger customers/constituents like us to do?” “If we had to merge/partner with someone to stay in business who might that be?”
  3. At your strategic planning retreat begin with “strategic thinking:” challenging assumptions about your current models, looking for innovation across other organizations and industry domains, talking about some of the highest risk innovation going on in your industry. [see “Strategic Thinking” matrix p.2]
  4. Bring an outside trend expert in your domain to speak at your annual strategic planning meeting to stretch your thinking about the future.
  5. Explore your value proposition to constituents by doing a deep dive into your constituents / customer’s / member’s answers to a twice a year “value” survey. Satisfaction is how happy they are with service and access, “value” is what need they want you to meet and how their needs are changing.
  6. Expect executive and key administrative staff to push new developments your way on a board only web site—especially have them report on trends they noticed while attending professional meetings.
  7. Target a specific topic/issue for investigation when you go to an industry meeting and seek out those who are making innovative moves to pick their brain—report back at the next board meeting.
  8. Attend professional meetings outside your industry but on topics pertaining to your interest in future trends (e.g. leadership succession, human resources, web/internet applications, mergers, government regulation).
  9. Put together a “think tank” of advisors with whom you meet twice a year to discuss the future of business in your domain. No, those casual chats with peers at the regional meetings don’t cut it—get a diverse group of thought leaders and have them think out loud about the developing future they see.
  10. Provide books and journal or magazine subscriptions for your board as a means of stretching their thinking about the future. Some suggestions: “FastCompany” magazine; “The Futurist” (World Future Society); “The Economist” magazine; “Out of the Blue: Wild Cards and Other Big Future Surprises” (John Petersen); “Blue Ocean Strategy” (W. Chan Kim); “Peripheral Vision: Detecting the Weak Signals that Will Make or Break Your Company” (George Day); “The Extreme Future,” James Canton; “The Meaning of the 21st Century,” James Martin.
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