Improving Communications Between Boards and Stakeholders
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Effective communication has never been more important, and boards can take a lead in being more open, accountable and ultimately more impactful. The need for boards to have confidential, honest and challenging discussions so that they can make informed decisions can often make communication outside the board seem less of a priority.
This is an outdated view of communications, reducing it to a tactical function rather elevating it to being a strategic one. Being open does not mean being open-ended: boards can choose when and how they communicate but communicate they should - formally and informally.
Non-Executive Directors can improve their contribution in their areas of expertise by building in a greater appreciation of good communication. Communication is the science of the taking broad aspirations and concepts and translating them into what is relevant and meaningful to specific individuals and groups. Thinking about the implications and impact of possible decisions not only ensures that decisions are more fully informed but also results in decisions being better received, understood and supported. Boards benefit not from uniformity but unity. A structured, professional approach to communication helps to deliver communications that are clear, credible and compelling.
Boards can be the catalyst for building awareness and understanding - and inspire action that supports business objectives.
None of the confidentiality and sensitivity of board discussions should ever be lost - but another important level is reached if discussions take into account whether any resulting decisions can be communicated so as to convey a sense of purpose, clarity of rationale and appreciation of the implications for relationships critical to success. This builds buy-in and removes needless misunderstanding and opposition. Few significant business decisions fail to consider the legal and financial context. Taking into account of the communication context, especially risk, makes a difference, clarifying intent and making proposed implementation more robust.
The logic of committing to better communication is a no-brainer: but building confidence and competence requires thought, preparation and learning by doing. In future columns, I will return to how boards can become more proficient in their communications.
Lucian J. Hudson is a Board Chair and a Specialist in Strategic Communications