The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) has just published its 2013–2014 Public Company Governance Survey. The news release and several top-line findings are available here. A copy of the full survey report is available from the NACD bookstore.
The report makes for interesting reading. One metric that caught my attention was the average amount of time that board members commit to their work. Respondents claimed their annual time commitment was 235 hours per board. Using an 8-hour day as the basis, this means that directors of public companies in America commit, on average, 2.5 days per month to each board of which they are a director. Does this sound like a lot of time, or not much? By way of comparison, most boards of public companies in New Zealand meet ten or eleven times per year, and board meetings typically last between four and seven hours. Even taking the generous end of these ranges, and doubling the figure to account for committee work and pre-reading, the figure for a New Zealand director is about 154 hours, or roughly two-thirds of the American figure.
What amount of time is reasonable? Clearly, boards and companies are complex, socially dynamic, and subject to the vagaries of markets and many internal and external factors, so every situation is different. However, I would have thought that a figure closer to 400–450 hours per year would be necessary, if a director is to understand the business of the business well (this being a prerequisite to making an effective contribution to the development of strategy and the making of informed strategic decisions), and monitor performance well. Could the lower levels of commitment that seem to be typical be material to the various failures of governance that have come to light in recent years?
What's the best way to cope with (and survive!) a busier than normal work week? When I was out delivering pamphlets this afternoon—for Party-by-the-Lake, a Halloween alternative which is enjoyed by 3000 people in our local community—I found myself thinking about this very question, based on my own busy week ahead:
This schedule will see me in four cities, in two countries, in four days. Does reading it make you feel a little tired? In all, the week will involve ten hours in the air; at least seven hours waiting in airport lounges; and, several early starts and late nights. It will be mentally and physically draining, I'm sure. Hopefully, I will still be compos mentis by the end of the week! While I'm somewhat out of practice with such busy international schedules, I expect to call on several habits that have served me well when dealing with similar schedules in the past:
So there you have it, some of my techniques for dealing with a busier than normal schedule. How do you cope with such weeks?
Many years ago, when I was just a few years out of university, I heard an alarming statistic: that most projects (70% or more) were delivered late, cost more and provided less than originally planned. Some were never completed at all. I recall discussing this with my then colleagues and associates, because it seemed like an important problem that needed to be solved. My colleagues said that new systems and processes were being developed, and that this would alleviate the problem.
Fast forward a generation... Many systems and processes have been introduced—including MS-Project, PMP, Prince2, PMO and others—but have the expected gains been achieved? Sadly, they have not. As a recently published KPMG report indicates, most projects are still late, cost more, provide less or fail outright. On this evidence, little has changed. Much time and effort has been spent developing and promoting new systems—and millions of dollars are still being wasted.
So, what's gone wrong, and why haven't things improved? In my view, most project management systems and processes have failed to deliver any material gains, because they do not address the vagaries of the most crucial factor: people. A more holistic approach is required. Rather than spend more effort refining systems and introducing yet more processes, attention needs to turn to the people factors. The research literature is replete with information to guide a new generation of people-focussed effort. However, until someone takes up the challenge—to deal with the motivational, behavioural and other psycho-social factors—I suspect the wastage will continue.
I added a new string to my bow (so to speak) today—by becoming a Tutor at Massey University. So, with tutoring in the mix, I now have six strings to manage and keep in tune (Doctoral candidate, advisor, director, husband/father, cyclist, tutor). The task I've taken on is to teach the 115.108 Organisations and Management paper on the Wellington campus. It's a core paper in the BBS programme, and should be a lot of fun.
Preparing for weekly lecture and tutorial sessions will be a new experience for me, one that promises to be both demanding and fulfilling. I'll need to organise my time in a more structured manner than I've been used to—to ensure I meet the weekly cycle and provide space for students to visit to ask questions. On the upside, the idea of contributing to the learning and development of the next generation of business men and women is quite neat.
One initial observation: the systems and processes Massey has in place for new staff—even part-timers on fixed term contracts like me—are amazing. When I visited the campus today, I discovered access to key on-line resources had already been configured, an office had been assigned, access keys and cards were waiting for collection, and staff were bending over backwards to be helpful. If today is any guide, I'm in for a fulfilling semester ahead. Hopefully, the students agree!
According to the calendar on my desk, today is 4 January 2013. However, in my mind's eye, today is "day two" of 2013—because yesterday was the first day back at my desk since about 18 December.
The two-week break has been refreshing. I spent a lot of time on the three 'R's: reading, riding, relaxing (with family and friends). However, now it's time to "get stuck in" again—to what is shaping up to be a huge year of data collection, analysis and (hopefully) writing.
I spent the morning reviewing my doctoral journey to date, and sorting out the priority items that need most attention over the coming weeks. Here's what emerged:
So, hello 2013. As I proceed, I'll draw strength from Isaiah 40:31.
One of the promises (or more correctly, one of the aspirational goals) I made when setting out on my doctoral journey was to read widely—particularly in "off-topic" areas. My reason was selfish: to expand my horizons, maintain a sense of sanity and (hopefully) trigger some new ideas, because the sheer volume of on-topic material is enough to intimidate even the most ardent student.
However when I paused for a few days after completing the confirmation process, I realised that progress towards my "read widely" goal had stalled somewhat. In the daily routine of reading about governance, strategy, research methodologies, philosophy, and the theory of knowledge creation, I'd lost sight of the bigger goal.
Having realised what had happened, I decided an active remedy was required. To this end I have explicitly reserved an hour a day to read off-topic material. Further, I have decided to embrace the novel genre (for the first time in my adult life!), and specifically the so-called modern classics. A search engine provided the starting point: To Kill a Mockingbird. Next in line is yet to be determined, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!
Are you a reader? I used to be. But university intervened. Thirty years ago, after reading my way through university (text books, journals and articles—not novels or anything of general interest), I lost my appetite for reading. When asked "What are you reading?", I'd answer with "Nothing, university cured me." After plowing my way through heavy material for four years, I had reached the point where I simply did not want to pick up anything longer than an article. I still read a little, but my diet was based entirely on articles published in the popular press (Times, National Geographic, The Economist, HBR), and material I needed to read for work.
A few years ago, after a long hiatus, a switch flipped. I rediscovered reading again—reading for pleasure and relaxation, that is. I can't recall the time, the place or the exact trigger. Like earlier in my life, I still read to learn. But now I also read to relax. Here's a selection of titles I have read recently:
I tend to read about times, people and places—history and biography. I've discovered that, by reading this sort of material, I relax and learn at the same time. Articles like this motivate me. Reading about the past helps me understand today's world.
If you read, I'd be interested to hear your story.
Frank Partnoy posted a great article on the HBR Blog Network today.
I've heard it said many times in business circles that "velocity wins"—meaning the faster we move and the faster we make decisions, the better. Partnoy disagrees. He argues that speed is killing our decisions. If we get caught up in a fast decision cycle, where speed (of decision-making) is everything, we risk making poor decisions and suffering the consequences as a result. Partnoy commended the decision-making framework developed by John Boyd, fighter pilot and military strategist, as a means of improving decision quality. The framework is called OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act).
In my opinion, OODA has considerable applicability in business. Boyd asserted that the ultimate goal is to act fast, but not necessarily first. I agree. Making smart decisions is more important than outright speed.
Did you know that every living creature on Earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in their lifetime (yes, 2,000,000,000)? I never knew that until I came across a wonderful article called Joyas Volardores earlier this week.
Doyle writes so well. He brings science to life. Get this (of heartbeats): "You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and I've to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old".
This article got me thinking. How will I spend the rest of my two billion heartbeats? This is a very tough question. One part of my answer is that I'm working on my PhD at present, as a step towards my longer term goal of helping organisations realise their potential and make a significant contribution to society. It's not the full story, but it is a start. How will you spend yours?
Do you struggle with too much on your "todo" list? Is the attraction of social media diverting your attention from concentrating on more important things?
If you can relate to this, you must read this outstanding article. It is as practical and helpful as the problem is profound.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and effective board practice; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.