How Clear Communication Creates Better Board Relationships

Nicholas J Price
5 min read
George Bernard Shaw said, 'The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.' Board directors have a specific set of skills that they put to good use in their positions of leadership. During the course of their duties, board directors and executives need clear communication skills because they connect and work with people from many different facets of the business. Their communication with others carries a lot of weight.

Board directors are often guilty of communicating too little. They're rarely accused of communicating too much. While it can be difficult to know exactly how much a board director should share, and when, it helps to factor in the audience and what they really need to know. Board directors encounter various individuals working in various capacities.

Poor communication leads to a negative impact on the listener and can have a residual impact as well. Pressures coming from many directions can make board directors vulnerable, so they need to be careful not to put themselves in a situation where they have to accept personal liability for their actions.

One thing that today's board directors have in their favor is secure board management software, which can help them keep their communications clear with other groups and individuals within the organization.

Clear Communication Between Executives and the Company Secretary, General Counsel and Administrators

One of the biggest mistakes in communication is making assumptions. Board directors don't always have first-hand experience in someone else's position, so it's not always possible to know someone else's perspective unless you have a conversation about it. Each person is an expert in their own position. Regardless of with whom a board director is communicating, it's important for them to communicate their thoughts and ideas clearly and make sure the other party understands them. Don't assume that the other person gets your opinion just because they're nodding their head. Be aware that communication is a two-way street. What the Company Secretary, General Counsel and administrators have to say to the board is just as important as the information they receive.

Some of the information the board needs to communicate relates to their accomplishments. Often, the board and the executives are aware of milestones and achievements, but they fail to tell the other important people who were part of the journey. Board decisions affect the overall corporate operations and they should let those in other positions within the company know when great things happen.

Boards can also be pretty insular. Once in a while, it's important for people in other positions to hear from them directly and not just through management. Another way that boards communicate with others is documentation. Communication can easily get misconstrued, especially when there are changes in responsibilities. Responsibility matrices can be useful tools for ensuring accountability when job responsibilities change.

Clear Communication Between Executives and the Board

Board directors and executives need to communicate on a fairly regular basis, so clarity in communication is a given. Communication is a process that most boards need to work on with their executives. Communication between them can range from executives communicating very little to them overloading the board with so much information board directors can't possibly digest it all. Effective board directors will be clear about the types of information they need from executives to help them in their duties of risk management, planning and oversight. Most often, board directors prefer to receive information in the form of summaries and digests.

Board directors also have to be careful not to talk at executives, but to talk to them and be willing to let them ask questions and offer feedback. Directors should encourage a culture of openness to new ideas. This requires them to appear approachable to executives in their words and actions. Good communication also means following up with appropriate action after conversations.

Providing clarity also accounts for board directors giving information that includes the background information and proper context so that nothing gets misconstrued.

Clear Communication Between Board Directors

Clear communication between board directors requires full participation by all board directors. There's a strong push for diversity on boards now, but that doesn't do them any good if all perspectives aren't being heard in the boardroom. Lack of participation by one or more board directors leaves the board unbalanced. Boards need to reach a consensus on how to motivate board members to fulfill their roles or they need to communicate about how to remove them from the board. One strategy is to ask the quiet directors to speak first.

Communication errors can also be made when board directors don't ask for clarity out of fear of asking a dumb question. Most likely, others are also confused by something. Board directors who are both vulnerable and bold set the stage for all directors to open up.

In email communications, board directors need to think about their responses before sending them. Get out of the habit of hitting 'reply all' when the message doesn't apply to all. Board directors will read emails that are directed to them and those that are marked for them. Emails that contain too much information or that don't include information that relates to board directors don't need to be shared with the board. The few extra seconds that you take to focus on who you're sending your reply to can work to keep materials out of harm's way.

Secure Communication and File-Sharing

With Diligent Messenger and Secure File-Sharing, directors can be assured that the right material is getting into the right hands. Directors have assurance that files are safe because they're encrypted. The program allows the sender to restrict files by groups or users and they have control over who can view them, download them and print them. Authorized users can then mark up, annotate or leave comments on the files and share them, with or without the markups. Users can also arrange their settings so that they get notifications automatically when a file has been changed or altered. For sending messages, Diligent Messenger allows directors and executives to communicate securely within the Diligent platform, where all the tools are fully integrated.

Clear communication is also safe communication, and both are examples of modern governance, which means that corporate leaders have the technology, insights and processes to support good governance and to thrive in the marketplace.