Boards that Deliver
by Ram Charan
ISBN: 0-7879-7139-1, Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2005
Reviewed by: Julie Garland McLellan*
Every so often you meet someone who has the ability to state things with such clarity that they appear instantly obvious and simple. Ram Charan is one of those people. His lucid descriptions evoke real situations with all their rich complexity of detail but without any of the clutter that prevents directors from decisive value adding action.
Don't be fooled; this is not a simple book. The writing is terse but the insight is deep and the suggestions for improvement are well founded in practical experience. The book discusses the evolution in board dynamics, information architecture and focus on substantive issues that will allow Boards to move from a 'ceremonial' role, through a process of liberation to a state that Charan refers to as 'progressive'.
In my work advising Boards I have encountered many that struggle with the symptoms of 'liberated' Boards. The frequent digressions from what is really important, the time wasted on trivia, the personal interests, the revisiting of old arguments and the rewriting of former agreements that frustrate so many Boards are exposed in all their hideous familiarity. Charan's descriptions of this state arouse sympathy without descending into excuse-making, patronising or blaming the Board. He just accurately states what is wrong and what that can cost the organisation before going on to describe how to correct practices and make a quantum leap in board effectiveness.
I meet few 'ceremonial' Boards in my line of work; it could be that those Boards would never invite me into their midst or just that there are less of them, now that individual directors are becoming more professional and diligent in their roles. However, the descriptions do hold true and the process for moving from a passive Board to a liberated one is well and clearly set out in the book.
The real value in this book is its practical assistance in making that step change from a group of great and well-intentioned individuals to a Board with a collective viewpoint and will. It allows for efficiency and focus that take the company into forward-looking strategic issues without over-stressing the hard-working executive team.
The final jewel in this book is the section on 'contributions that count'. It is a great resource for any director and should be legislated as required reading for all Chairs.
This is a practical and succinct book that I return to often. It has something of value for every Board that I have worked with. On a scale of one to five this is definitely a ten!
* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of "The Director's Dilemma", "All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector" and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.
Julie Garland McLellan to judge 2011 Global eBook Awards