Welcome to the December 2012 edition of The Director’s Dilemma.

This month our real life case study considers the peaks in a professional director’s workload and the respondents offer suggestions on how to manage the issue without harming important political relationships.

Consider: Which response would you choose and why?

Stuart is a well-respected professional company director who has developed a prominent profile in his industry. He is president of the industry association and has recently been appointed to Chair the board of a government-owned organisation that is a highly important part of the industry ecosystem.

He has been pleasantly surprised by the diligence and contribution of his directors and the professional expertise of the CEO and management team. He also loves being able to contribute to the strategic development of the industry even though the Chairmanship pays less than his other industrial roles as a NED.

The Minister clearly appreciates his expertise and has taken to asking Stuart to speak at functions which the Minister either cannot attend or is not confident to address. He also drops by the office for coffee and advice as well inviting Stuart to attend a lot of official functions and conferences.

The Minister has recently planned an overseas study trip which Stuart is concerned will take him away from his other boards (and this one) for a length of time that will be harmful to the companies.

The workload is spinning out of control and Stuart, who usually sees himself as highly organised and capable, is starting to feel that he isn’t coping and that something is going to be missed. He has tried turning down the requests from the Minister’s office citing workload and pre-existing commitments but these polite refusals are rejected and he is told that he ‘must’ attend as part of his role.

Stuart is happy that his expertise is recognised but can’t spread himself this thin. He doesn’t want to resign any of his board seats as the workload should be easily manageable were it not for the constant time demands from his Minister.

How should Stuart handle this issue?

Andy's Answer

Stuart has a classic Sales and Operations Planning problem. Demand on available resources (time) exceeds supply. The solution is simple, but not "easy". He must determine if he can increase his resources (time). He can work overtime (as he appears to be doing less than successfully now), he can offload work to a secondary resource (ask others to attend events in his stead), or he can allocate demand to his customers (the association and the boards). This allocation can come by offloading his least profitable customers, or by assigning percentages of his scarce resource (time) to each customer. If he chooses to offload one or more customers rather than allocate percentages, he himself (as the managing director of "Stuart, Inc.") must determine the profitability of each customer as he balances the costs/rewards of each opportunity.

Simple because the process to balance supply and demand is just math. Not easy because he will likely have to make hard choices that prevent him from doing activities he values and would like to do if there were more hours in the day. We all have to make these optimization decisions in our everyday lives.

Andy Avery is a Lead Instructor CPIM for APICS, he is based in Portland, Maine, USA.

Julie's Answer

The duties expected of board members and Chairs vary from board to board. An important aspect of any board appointment is a clear agreement on the scope of duties and the expected time to be spent on them.

Stuart should draft (or revise) a board charter that sets out expectations of board members, then develop a final version based on sharing and discussing its content with his colleagues and the governance unit of the appropriate department.

In this case Stuart has a professional and expert CEO who may make a good, and arguably more appropriate, stand-in for the duties which the Minister currently expects Stuart to fulfil. He also has diligent and committed board colleagues whom he could nominate for some of the duties. He should assist the CEO and directors to step up into the limelight and spend more time mentoring and grooming them than occupying the limelight himself. That is a major part of the leadership role of a Chairman.

Stuart must make the Minister aware of the range of skills and expertise available in the board and management. He can do this by ‘showcasing’ his colleagues at every appropriate opportunity and bringing them along to meetings, functions and events until the Minister is confident enough to rely on them. The Minister has selected Stuart because of his prominence and expertise. Stuart now needs to ‘champion’ his colleagues and develop their expertise. He should concentrate on picking his most likely successors from the current board and building their profile and skills until they can start to share his duties.

Proper provision of briefing materials from the company to the Minister’s office and department will also assist.

A combination of good briefings, appropriate director job descriptions, a board charter and development of higher profiles for more members of the board will allow Stuart to rein in the excessive demands and give the Minister confidence. It will also build a stronger board and provide better succession management.

Julie Garland McLellan is a practising non-executive director and board consultant based in Sydney, Australia.

Andy's Answer

Stuart has an Epiphany headed his way: "you cannot have it all: and if you even try to have it all, you'll collapse in a screaming heap and be sorrier than you've ever been in your entire life, for a very long time. So give your head a shake, mate!"

It’s time to examine life's priorities, Stuart. While it is nice to be recognized and appreciated, Chairing the board of that Government organisation is taking a huge toll, and it will eventually have a detrimental effect somewhere: be it family, effectiveness, health, or happiness -- or all of these, plus many more...

So, it's time for Stuart to go fishing, all by himself, somewhere quiet -- alone. Annual leave, sick days -- it simply doesn't matter what he calls it, he needs an entire week clear, to get his head straight. Because he is WAY too close to everything, right now, and it will kill him if he isn't careful.

And the Minister? Well, he can jolly well wait. If Stuart were to have a heart attack or mental collapse, the Minister would surely cope without him for a while. Could Stuart have a heart attack or mental collapse? If he continues along the lines he is going, it's inevitable.

Would the Minister care much if Stuart collapsed in a screaming heap? Of course he wouldn't! He would replace Stuart by noon, latest -- and it wouldn't worry him in the slightest.

So, get out the fishing rod, Stuart. Leave the work at the office. Book a cabin somewhere on a lake. Take your cell phone if you must, but leave the charger at home. Keep it switched off to save batteries, and use it only to call the wife each night, and in case you have a car breakdown or other EMERGENCY. Don't take a computer with you, or even a pad of paper and pen: a DictaFone in your pocket is all you need to record your thoughts...

Time to reorganize your life, Stuart. Been there, done that, and it was neither pleasant nor fun. But definitely worth the effort!

Andy Cawston is a management consultant at Hart-Knox Academy and a member of the board of governors of The Mangere East Family Service Centre. He is based in New Zealand.


The opinions expressed above are general in nature and are designed to help you to develop your judgement as a director. They are not a definitive legal ruling. Names and some circumstances in the case study have been changed to ensure anonymity. Contributors to this newsletter comment in the context of their own jurisdiction; readers should check their local laws and regulations as they may be very different.

What's New

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Book review – Directors at Work

The holiday season is starting and this is a perfect time to read a big meaty book full of powerful ideas for improving your board and organisation’s performance in the new year. ‘Directors at Work’ is the latest from the team that wrote ‘Boards at Work’ ten years ago. It is even better than its predecessor and up to date with the latest ideas for enhancing your board’s impact. Available at www.thomsonreuters.com.au.

Inspirational quote

"Success is not measured by what a man accomplishes, but by the opposition he has encountered and the courage with which he has maintained the struggle against
overwhelming odds."

~Charles Lindbergh

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Suggestions for dilemmas – Thank you to all the readers who have suggested dilemmas. I will answer them all eventually.

Farewell until the next issue (due 1 February 2013).

Enjoy governing your corporations; we are privileged to do what we do!

Best regards and best wishes for the holiday season,