Feb 17, 2024 Nurole logo
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Management: how boards can quantify the value of better leadership, work with mercurial CEOs and balance managerial and technical competence, with Ann Francke OBE (CEO, Chartered Management Institute)

🎙️ You can listen to the full podcast interview with Ann on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Oliver Cummings: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of enter the boardroom with Neurol, the business podcast that brings the boardroom to you. I'm your host, Oliver Cummings, CEO of Neurol, the board search specialist and market leader bringing science to the art of board hiring. 

I wanted to take a moment before we start to say thank you. For all the support and positive feedback on the podcast, one recent comment from at yo via Gill stood out, which highlighted finding a mentor in Enter the Boardroom. 

If anyone listening is interested in finding a traditional in-person, mentor, do consider joining the neural board community, which you can find@community.new.com.

For just 29 a month, we have created a space where you can get matched with a mentor, as well as learn, grow your board network, and tap into the hive mind of over 60, 000 board members in real time.

Today's guest Anne Franker, OBE, has been Chief Executive of the [00:01:00] Chartered Management Institute since 2012.

A recognized management and leadership thought leader, Anne is a regular columnist for the London Times, an author of two books, The Financial Times Guide to Management, and Create a Gender Balance Workplace. Published by Penguin 

alongside her executive career in writing and holds or has held a number of advisory board positions at Grant Thornton, Lancaster University Management School and the Open University Business School, amongst others, and a huge welcome. And thanks so much for joining us today. 

Ann Francke: Thank you, Oliver. Delighted to be here.

Oliver Cummings: And I've been really looking forward to this. You have produced some incredible research at CMI and one of my favorite programs. Bits of data was around organizations that invest in management and leadership development programs that they experience on average, a 23 percent increase in performance and a 33 percent rise in employee engagement and productivity.

And for me, as a CEO, that's always felt. Intuitive. [00:02:00] But when I look at a lot of the research out there, one of the things I wrestle with is that cause correlation blink. 

How have you got yourself comfortable that it's not just high performing organizations will invest in leadership and development, that it is actually when you invest in leadership development, you increase your chance of becoming a high performing organization.

Ann Francke: Yeah, it's a reasonable question. Although sometimes I do think that we get too caught up in the correlation V causation argument, and we'd be better off just adopting the more Nike cry of just do it because that's the right thing and the best thing to do. But to answer your question, we also do a lot of research on micro behaviors and micro impacts.

So those were organizational level impacts, but we've researched a lot around individuals. So a recent study looked at over 2, 000 managers and 2, 000 non managers. When you have managers who are trained [00:03:00] and who are rated as effective, then the behaviors that they elicit from their non managers and the values that they can create indicate that you're going to get higher and engagement.

So, for example, if you have an effective line manager who regularly asks you for feedback, you feel much more valued. You feel much more respected. You feel much more likely to be able to contribute positively to the outcomes of your organization. And the opposite is also true. If you're rating your manager as ineffective, then you're significantly less likely to feel valued and respected.

And in fact, over 50 percent of the people in this survey who rated their managers as ineffective, tell us that they are thinking of leaving their organization within the next six months. 

So if you do have ineffective management, people will vote with their feet, right? And when you have effective management, people [00:04:00] feel valued, they feel like they want to contribute.

So that's the micro level analysis that says, yeah, these behaviors come up and they are demonstrated in the research. There are also other bits of research I know, for example, McKinsey did a piece of research that demonstrated that the biggest impact on your well being. is Actually your relationship with your line manager.

It's actually the second largest impact on your well being outside of work. It's the largest on your well being inside work, of course. And I know that Workall has come up with a similar result. So clearly there are a lot of studies that show how you interact with your line manager has enormous impacts on your well being.

And then the other thing I would say is that we do measure the impact of chartered manager, which is the, the thing that CMI awards. And we've done independent research on that, which shows again that these [00:05:00] chartered managers. Are delivering in, you know, hard terms value to their organization. So on average, they're delivering over 60, 000 pounds of value in the private sector per year to their organizations in terms of growth or cost savings.

So that's again another, you know. Indicator that this stuff really does matter. 

Oliver Cummings: Okay. Really interesting. So, so again, intuitively to me, it makes sense. I guess there are a couple of things that will give me pause for thought from time to time. 

So one of those is when I look and read about some of the most successful businesses of our time and to that spring to mind sort of amazon an apple.

I'm often struck in the sort of the autobiographies and other bits of writing that give you into insight into how they run, what miserable places they can sometimes be to work at. 

And it feels to me is consistent with that. You know, one of the things I always hear from CEOs when they're talking about. Things they wish they'd done better. [00:06:00] They always wish that they had been Given more time to looking after themselves and their well being.

Yet You never hear from the CEO who did do that and it makes me wonder whether you know What why is it if or if if that investment into management management training produces better outcomes?

Why are market forces not dictating that? More organizations do that.

Ann Francke: I mean Look, there are always going to be exceptions to every rule. So you've mentioned Apple you've mentioned some other organizations Where you have absolutely brilliant visionaries, which you know, it's clearly Steve Steve Jobs is that was that?

It was the strength of his vision. He carried the whole organization on the strength of his vision, which I think we can agree he was obsessed with to a very almost cult like degree. 

But we're not all Steve Jobs, right? And those people are very rare. And what is really true is [00:07:00] that, There are, of course, cases where you have these brilliant, brilliant visionaries that are going to succeed no matter what on the strength, the sheer strength of their willpower, the sheer strength of their acumen, and their insight, and their drive.

But there are the exceptions. And for the rest of us, how we lead and manage, how we behave toward others is extremely important. And I am not saying, by the way, that you always have to be nice. This is not about being nice. You know, which is another thing that people conflate with. Oh, good managers are nice.

Nope. You know, they're not necessarily mean either, by the way. I'm not saying that they're mean bullies. They are not, you know, turning the other cheek, accepting shoddy work letting people off the hook from their accountabilities and responsibilities. They are not people who shy away from insisting on delivery.

So good leaders will insist [00:08:00] on delivery. They will hold people to account. They will give honest feedback, even when it is also a critique, but they will do that with the objective of improving the performance of supporting the individual and of coaching that individual, but also what good leaders do.

And unfortunately this isn't nearly done often enough is when you have. An individual who is just not performing either because they're incapable of doing the work or they may be delivering great outcomes, but their behavior is extremely toxic. Good leaders and managers will deal with that and they will exit that individual.

So performance management. Is an absolutely essential part of being a good leader, manager and CEO and board chair. And, you know, we don't see that in my view [00:09:00] often enough. We see people put up with either shoddy capability in terms of output or. equally very toxic behavior and we don't manage it.

Oliver Cummings: Is that something that you've ever faced as a board member that need to evaluate and trade off against the iconic CEO who is perhaps not the best manager and not implementing the best management systems? How, how do you evaluate that? 

Ann Francke: Yes, I have run across that, of course. It's a difficult one. My own personal journey has been, I've always stood up for what I felt was right. If you want to ask, well, okay, what did that cost you? I can absolutely put my hand up and say, yep, absolutely cost me a job. 

Right. I did walk in and say, I really disagree with this strategy. I think it's going to bankrupt the company. [00:10:00] I'm going to have to resign. And I was told no need, we'll fire you. Actually subsequently the company did go bankrupt, but I will always err on the side of what I feel to be morally right.

Not everybody will do that. I accept that. And that's well documented. It's, it's, it's not a hugely prevalent cultural trait in Britain to be extremely forthright with your views. it's more likely that you will be slightly more indirect or perhaps we would say diplomatic or indeed there was a great piece in the economist just last week on passive aggressiveness, which is a lot of that kind of behavior where you're disguising it.

But I do think that in those situations you should at least be willing to say what you think is your truth. Now you have to accept that others may not agree with you and there may be consequences for that. And then it's up to you and that situation. What happens with those consequences? Do you stay in the [00:11:00] organization, knowing that you disagree, but you have cabinet responsibility to kind of go along with everybody?

Or do you say, no, actually that crosses my value threshold and I'm probably, best going elsewhere. And I think that individuals should always ask themselves that question in senior leadership positions, where they find their values or beliefs are being challenged to an uncomfortable degree.

Oliver Cummings: So can I hold that up to an example? And this is sparked by a previous guest. We had Professor Andrew Kerkabatze, who was saying one of the reasons boards have got into trouble is because they've imposed this sense for board members that they need to do what's right and that that's essentially a relative thing and therefore creates all sorts of Conflict.

But if you had been faced as a board member with, let's say an inspirational or highly successful economically CEO, like Jeff Bezos [00:12:00] at Amazon, and then you'd sort of heard some horror story about the way the organization was being run. Would you at that point step up and how would you handle that?

Ann Francke: It's always good to play to people's strengths. And that's something that we really All leaders and managers need to do and board members need to be aware of what are the strengths of the individuals around that table and in the executive team. 

Let's play to them and let's try to create situations where we address and shore up the things, give them additional resources to deal with the things that they're less good at. 

And in those situations, again, I go back to the brilliant visionary and the person with the commercial now send them, you know, the ambition and the drive to deliver something.

Well, you might want to give that person and many organizations do this. People. alongside and underneath them who are good at, you know, corralling others, [00:13:00] getting people on side you know, being that more human face, right? 

And almost acting as a little bit of a buffer between that brilliant, driven, but hard charging CEO and the rest of the organization.

There's the very recent example of that, which honestly, I think the jury's out as to whether or not it's going to be successful, but look at what Elon Musk is doing with X, right? He brought in, you know. Linda Iaccarino, who is this incredibly accomplished buffer between him and their revenue sources, right?

And she's really trying her best. And also obviously, you know, to be that buffer, but no doubt between him and the rest of the organization, but whether or not that works remains to be seen. 

Oliver Cummings: I love that. That resonates a lot. For me, where I've seen CEOs who've been a force of nature, and I love this idea [00:14:00] of trying to support them in the areas where they are less strong as a board.

But my experience of that has sometimes been that actually they are still a force of nature, and they're still a bull in a china shop, and actually that support just gets blown aside, and it all is lovely in theory, but the reality is they carry on as they were. Have you seen ways that You can make that more likely to succeed and more likely to be well harnessed. 

Ann Francke: Really hard when that hard charging, brilliant CEO is also the owner. Perhaps in in public situations that can be different. But again, you know, each situation is more nuanced. I mean, if you look at there have been there have been situations where recently, for example look at what happened to open AI, right?

You know, where there's clearly now, I don't think and that was not a case of that was very That was a basis of principles, wasn't it, rather than behaviors, because [00:15:00] obviously the CEO in charge there, who was trying to very rapidly develop the commercial aspects of the AI Sam Altman was obviously incredibly well liked and respected by the employees.

Otherwise, several hundred of them would not have come forward and said, I'm quitting. If he goes, I go right. And indeed, he is said by his mentors to really relish the power that he is getting from this position. He is equally credited by those people as being really excellent at getting people on side and taking people with him.

And so, there's a situation where, okay, what's the best thing for the organization? It was a very difficult situation because obviously the principle of that organization was it was set up to run on the basis of good for humanity, right? That's how it was structured. 

And to me, that's a little bit incompatible with The culture in which it was nurtured, the Silicon Valley culture, you know, the Silicon Valley culture is many [00:16:00] things. I don't think anybody would ever say the Silicon Valley culture has been set up along the principle of what is the best for humanity. I mean, let's face it. It's about making people very wealthy and shaping the world as they do it. And perhaps not paying as much attention. to the downsides until they're really material. 

Oliver Cummings: You've already talked there about doing what's right and, and you actually have a fantastic record of having stuck your head above the parapet and spoken out for the things that you thought were the right things to do.

It feels to me like that's becoming a harder and harder balance for board members to strike. How do you think about that, in your board roles now, of when to stick your head above the parapet and when to bite your tongue? 

Ann Francke: It is difficult, I agree, because everything immediately, and this is a [00:17:00] very bad tendency that's happening in politics, but I think it's also happening more generally in other institutions.

You know, we were talking earlier around what Just gone on in the US with the university presidents resulting in some resignations. That's another example. Everything is immediately polarized. You're expected to take sides. You're expected to come down Firmly on one side of the fence.

But life is often not black and white. It's gray. And I think one of the things that we have lost the ability to do more of, which I think boards and executives and everybody needs to do more of definitely also politicians is to pay more attention to the other side's arguments and try to avoid these very polarizing, polemical, it's black or it's white because so much of it is gray.

And in those situations, I think [00:18:00] just acknowledging, okay, well, we might have some differences of opinion here. Let's have that debate. Let's have a civilized discussion where it doesn't descend into acrimony or name calling or abrupt histrionic behavior, or people tirading.

Let's just sit and listen to each other and explore. And in fact, I think that the research there shows that when you do that, Okay. You do get better decisions. And one of the experiments that showed that was actually a jury experiment. When you have people who have very different opinions to yourself and you're forced to listen to them.

You're forced to take their views into account in, for example, a jury situation. yoU pay more attention, you actually do better listening and that better listening may therefore impact your own view of the situation. And you may actually see some merit in that [00:19:00] position. And that may open up an opportunity.

to reach a better decision or a compromise. And I think that we just need to all be much more mindful of adopting that behavior in these situations, which are very volatile. That doesn't mean that you accept blatant lies, but it does mean that you just avoid these ultimatums, and you don't put people into corners, and you don't act rashly.

Oliver Cummings: Yeah, Adam Grant has written some interesting stuff on that looking at sports fans and getting rival sports fans to put themselves into the shoes of the other side. And then it ends up bringing them closer together. 

And actually, in that example, you referenced there of the university president and the was it the senator would have been interesting actually, to have got the senator to answer what What the other side of the question and put herself in in in the shoes of the president.[00:20:00] 

And I wonder whether that might have changed the tone of a lot of that that discussion. I suppose for boards when they're looking At the sorts of dilemmas, the management teams and senior executives face as managers. It feels to me, one of the things that often comes up that we've touched on a little bit is that tension between the human and the legal.

And there are certain situations where executives face a situation where there's a very clear legal pathway, but it diverges from what the obvious human pathway is for a board member listening. Now to this, you know, facing that sort of situation, what would be your sort of tips for navigating those sorts of situations based on your experience?

Ann Francke: So it's a very difficult situation to deal with, but what I don't think goes well is when people put the legal argument very front and center. And I've seen this, I've seen very [00:21:00] capable chairs, for example, who have been faced with bad behaviors. Basically, go on major media outlets and read the legal statements that they've been given by their lawyers.

Now these very capable, otherwise capable people, experienced chairs or leaders, come across very badly when they do that because everybody knows it's inauthentic. It sounds inauthentic. People say, well, that's not really addressing the issue, right? Right? Or. You know, that's actually not showing that they've understood the human impact of what's transpired.

And it's come to back to bite them, right? Because then people will call them out on that very fact, and they will be put into a corner where, you know, then they are in a position where they have to resign, for example, whereas if they had been more forthcoming and admitted the more human error.

anD not led with the legalistic arguments, then they and the organizations they lead may have had more time, more grace periods. [00:22:00] And I think that, like I said, I don't think it's ever good for boards to act rashly. And in many of these recent high profile examples, you know, just what that we've been talking about the whole open AI.

There was the incident earlier with the CBI, there was another incident again with NatWest. All of these things have happened recently. In all situations, the boards acted very swiftly, and I don't think in any of those situations that that was necessarily the right thing for those boards to do. 

I think that more reflective. Let's put each other in each other's shoes. Let's look at this situation. What actually happened here? What's the best thing for us to do? Might have resulted in better outcomes for the many leaders involved in those organizations. 

I'm not saying be indecisive. I'm saying, don't act rashly. I think there's a very big difference. 

Oliver Cummings: Okay, so I'm a board member, I've been listening, and I'm convinced that [00:23:00] Investing in management is a good thing. I've just come into a board role and I'm trying to figure out like does this board do management?

How do I go about assessing, what are the levers I have to pull? What's your framework for thinking about this when you go on to a board, and you're thinking about trying to assess how good the organization is on the management front and what you can do.

Ann Francke: One of the things that I think is very important for board members to understand early on is what exactly is the purpose of the organization and how well is that purpose articulated and lived in amongst the various, stakeholders. 

anD what that means is you have to have a certain degree of curiosity and the management has to have a certain degree of curiosity. And it means that you can't take things for granted. 

And one of the things that you can ask as a board member is why, you know, you can't say do this, do that, but you can say, you know, [00:24:00] Oh why is that? haS that turnover rate suddenly shot up in these areas of the business or why has that revenue growth slowed?

You can certainly ask that question, and the answer that you get is very telling because if you know what I think board members need to be alert to is when they're being given superficial answers. that are highly curated. yOu know, I've, like one of the things that I think is really anathema is when you do do, for example, discoverable surveys and other things.

And By the time they reach the board, they are so highly curated that any useful information has long since been edited out because somebody somewhere, usually [00:25:00] one of the execs responsible for that function is, you know, over my dead body is the board going to see that lousy result. 

So, you know, you, You go pearl diving and you massage it and that's completely ridiculous because any board member worth their salt will know that that's happened.

And what benefit is that? So one of the things that I do think board members need to have is a sense of curiosity about that organization and its purpose. 

And they should be allowed to have situations in which that's discoverable that aren't highly curated. And that does mean that, if you're on the board of a retailer, you can walk into the stores and talk to the store managers and the employees, for example, right?

Always a very good thing to do. Or you know, whatever board you want, you should be able to interact with people throughout the organization in a way that isn't so tightly scripted that [00:26:00] so as to be inauthentic. And you should be allowed to have that sense of curiosity. 

And then the question you should be asking yourself is, Oh, you know, is there a continuity between what I'm hearing around that board table, and what I'm experiencing when I'm digging deeper in the organization?

And again, when you don't have that, that's when things often, when people will get into trouble. And again, a couple of those examples, you know, one of the people know what's going on in organizations, even if the exact is trying to hide it from the board. 

Many people within, for example, BP, that the CEO had had not one, but more than one relationship with employees, right? And yet that the board wasn't told that, but everybody else knew. So in those situations where everybody else knows something else. And the board is being told this [00:27:00] very curated script. 

That's where warning bells should go off for board members. And you should say, "well I just want to try and corroborate that a little bit. Could we do a bit more digging here?" 

Oliver Cummings: I love that. So if I had to paraphrase it, make sure you have unscripted opportunities to connect, be highly curious when you do, and then analyze and look for dissonance with what you've been told.

Ann Francke: Yeah, because, if it's there, that is smoke, right? And where there is smoke, there is fire. And it may not be existential fire, you know, it could just be about, because what you're trying to do as a board member is make constructive suggestions to improve performance.

Oliver Cummings: How much do you look at the data? One of the stats that you produce jumped out of me was this one, that one in four people in the workforce have management responsibility while only I think 82 percent have become managers without formal training. And two things jumped out at me there. One was [00:28:00] One in four managers sound quite high.

Like I know Google have I think 5, 000 managers for 40, 000. So it's just a more one in eight versus one in four, which is probably more, more similar to what we have, but. Something like the how many managers have had formal training is a really easy thing to measure, like how much do you look at the data and what data do you look at to the extent you do alongside that being curious and creating those unscripted interactions.

Ann Francke: Well, you have to look at both. You cited the Google project on, do we need managers? It's a really fascinating piece of work for me. The big takeaway, the big aha of that is, is. What was the first thing on the list?

Being a good coach. What was the last thing on the list? Being technically competent. And the mistake that we make, and this is really the mistake that we make, and we make it at every level. We promote people on the basis of technical competence. Rather than on whether or not they're good at [00:29:00] managing themselves, others, and resources.

Now the role of a manager is to do just that. It's to manage themselves, others, and resources. Right. It is not to be the most technically competent programmer, salesperson, finance professional in the room. 

Oliver Cummings: Have you seen organizations that have flipped that on its head and where they have said we don't care about technical competence, we're just going to look at the people who are the best coaches? Because I can imagine there'd be a risk there that you'd end up with a group of bureaucrats potentially. 

Ann Francke: Well, I don't think that people that are really good at managing themselves or others and resources are bureaucrats. I think there are probably highly effective managers and leaders.

But yes, I will give you an example. It comes from my first employer and where I spent 14 years, Procter and Gamble. So Procter and Gamble, who for many decades has had a reputation for developing very good leaders and managers in across number of sectors. Being a really good school for CEOs, and one of the ways they approach this, which I agree with, is they, they actually make sure from the [00:30:00] very beginning that you're doing both.

So when you're hired in, of course you're taught how to be technically competent. So this is the way we do the budget at P& G, and this is the way we write the research report at P& G, and this is the way we write the one page recommendation at P& G. How you are taught to do that matters as much as what you were taught.

So you are taught from a very early age, you know what? Your, like your line manager, your, your boss is going to coach you through how to rewrite, you know, how to do that one page recommendation. And what they're not going to do is grab the pen from you and roll their eyes and say, Oh, for Christ's sakes, Ollie, forget it.

I'll do it myself, which is micromanagement, which is bad. And you know, you're not going to learn. Right? But you have a discussion about, well, okay, this paragraph isn't succinct enough. Why is that? And you're not leading with what you wanted to say. It's buried in the fourth sentence, you know, and let's not use a passive voice.

Let's use an active voice, all of those [00:31:00] coaching things that you can actually you know, and, oh, here's a breakout of the data that you might want to do. And that might yield some additional insights. So you're coaching somebody on how to do that. And that is. you know, a very important impact on showing that person, Oh, this is what it's like to have a supportive line manager and a boss.

The other thing that those cultures did is create not just coaching cultures, but a cult of a culture where sponsorship was highly valued. So when you did see somebody performing really well, you really went to bat for that person. 

Now I benefited from that at P and G is somebody far senior to me. Noticed that, I led a relaunch that went very well, and that person publicly was far many levels above me, publicly praised that work of mine in a speech to the organization and then immediately had me promoted.

I couldn't believe it. I was like, Oh my God. Oh, wow. But that's sponsorship, right? So they [00:32:00] were like, right, that went well, we're going to create another opportunity for that person. 

And those two things are coaching culture and really sponsoring people who do well and giving them stretch opportunities is so important for developing a really good management and leadership culture, as well as the investing in the training and reinforcing of the good behaviors. 

And I think that that's the kind of thing, that coaching culture and that sponsorship culture that we need more of. And so back to those board members, you know, how many execs around the table sponsor talent within the organization?

What programs do you have that do that? And is that talent diverse? How do you, you know choose people for sponsorship and what kind of opportunities do they get? Asking again those questions and seeing what kind of culture exists in that organization can be very, very helpful. 

Oliver Cummings: Got it. Okay. And so going back then to, you've got that board [00:33:00] member who's sitting there listening, thinking, okay, how am I going to improve the management in this organization that I'm sitting on the board of, and I think I've probably made a mistake in the past where I've said, Oh, we should just implement, you know, Google's oxygen project.

Let's start measuring all the managers on these eight characteristics and quite quickly realized, well, what works for them. Some of it will work for us, but other parts, Don't what? How do you think about that? Again, for that person listening, thinking, what are the practical things I can actually help my organization do now to take that step up in terms of its management strength?

Ann Francke: Again, this is a combination of culture, which is behavior and process. Right. So, gee, let's take a look at our talent pipeline. How do you identify people for promotion? What's the bench strength, what degree of that is objective achievements versus subjective.

How are they achieving it? So again that P and G evaluation always had a, what results did you achieve and a, how did you achieve them? You know, if you [00:34:00] achieve them by bullying and being a really nasty piece of work, and really, micromanaging your team, that was held against you.

 It's about asking those questions. You know, how are people promoted? hoW do we assess performance? And what kind of interview process do we go through before we promote internal versus external candidates? What are the characteristics of those that are more, you know, are we missing things?

For example, are we only promoting one kind of individual and others are missing out? I think there's a lot that can be done in terms of asking what is the culture. And getting curious about that culture, but also asking about the process. That's not micromanaging, that's just saying, is there a process?

Maybe there isn't. In which case, I'm not saying that everything has to be over processed, but I do think that the executives around the table should know, and should be able to freely discuss, that. And [00:35:00] then the other thing I would ask as a To your point on collaboration is so how do you facilitate cross functional collaboration?

Right? Because I think that is so important. Most of our problems are today are complex. It's not just the sales department or the engineering department or, you know, the marketing department or whatever. It isn't just a one trick pony. It's a complex problem. That needs different talents throughout the organization.

And we need to encourage people to do that cross functional working. And I was actually highly surprised when a very, very senior member in a very large public sector organization told me that they never actually met with their counterparts. across other parts of that organization and he had actually suggested it and I thought I can't believe you're the first person suggesting that you want to have a regular cross functional check in.

You know, because, wow, and [00:36:00] even you mentioned Google, you know, one of the things that I remember when I was discussing with some people at Google, how often do the commercial people interact with the engineers? And I remember that answer to me being not often enough, perhaps you need that. You need that better collaboration there, right? That mutual understanding of that, but what we're both doing is very important. 

Oliver Cummings: Got it. Now you've talked about sort of people being rash, indecision.

Are there any other mistakes that you see boards making both through your lens as a board member, but probably more through your role at the CMI, the really have a negative impact on an organization's management. Is that sort of one or two? Just absolute? No, no. Is the board should be mindful of avoiding?

Ann Francke: Well this is an older study, but it was the Association for Risk Management that looked at the 20 biggest [00:37:00] corporate implosions involving, I think it was 12 trillion of assets. And this was going back, this is things like Enron.

And they concluded that the number one cause of all these downfalls was groupthink. So what that is, is people being too Quick to agree with each other. Oh, yes, of course. Oh, yes. Well, we've done that. That won't work or oh, that's not a problem. So I think that the group think is very bad, and I do think that if That it should be challenged, you know, you can't just allow not allow this kind of, oh, we're all so collegiate here and it's all fine and we're all very comfortable with this situation. 

And of course we're not going to challenge it because, you know, that's just the way it is. I think that as a chair, you have a responsibility to encourage people to voice dissenting opinions and not to close down too rapidly, you know, like, well, of course we're all agreed with this.

I think [00:38:00] as a chair, you do have a responsibility to say, what are your views and make sure you elicit those views thoroughly, including from people less likely to contribute.

And I think that that is a very important responsibility of a chair because if you don't do that, you rely on the loudest voices, the ones that are most comfortable speaking, that perhaps you're most comfortable listening to and you miss.

And sometimes that results in really bad conclusions. And I remember an anecdote. This was a board that had been predominantly male, and they had recently appointed a couple of women on the board. And this particular chair. You know, about a year into the women being there was complaining to somebody, I can't remember, it might have been the executive search firm about, Oh, those women are so ineffective.

 So then the board was sent to do a board evaluation and observe the chair's behavior. Well, what that chair was doing was going and taking the views of every single man on the board. [00:39:00] And never got to hearing the views of the women. So of course he was concluding that they were ineffective and they were perhaps wrongly waiting to be asked instead of chair of how my hair, you know, it's like, excuse me.

Right. You know, and, and so of course they concluded the chair concluded the women were ineffective because he was never asking their views. 

Oliver Cummings: Super interesting. So if if group think is the biggest challenge over the sort of various podcasts, we've heard various measures people take to counter that, whether it's Dorian pulse, getting people to ask questions and share thinking and writing in advance so that everyone can review it and upvote the things that the issues they think red teaming it, having devil's advocates, bringing diversity onto the board in both demographic and cognitive paradigms.

Are there, is there a Go to strategy you have or find most effective in in breaking down group thing. 

Ann Francke: I'm a real [00:40:00] fan of reverse mentoring. And I think if more boards and exec teams did it that that's a really good way of improving culture. And again, this doesn't mean that you're going to let a 25 year old from a dramatically different background than you tell you what to do because that's not what this is about. 

This is about just hearing and you know, their experiences. What is it like to work here? You know, what are your thoughts? What, you know, how have you observed this? I mean, we do it, we do reverse mentoring at CMI. I've had some great discussions about race. About sexuality about AI and you know, it's, it's getting, it's just informing your point of view.

And again, it's about that curiosity. So I think that getting those reverse mentoring situations with board members and certainly with the executive team is a very worthwhile experience. And I think it does mitigate [00:41:00] against group think because it actually it's that forced listening, isn't it?

It's Oh, I'm gonna put you in a situation with somebody who's very different to you, and you're gonna have to listen to what they have to say.

Oliver Cummings: Love it. What a great way to wrap up. And I'm going to move on to the lightning round where I say a short statement and then ask you for a quick response if you're ready. 

Ann Francke: Yep. 

Oliver Cummings: So first up, the boardroom behavior that irritates you most.

Ann Francke: Groupthink and lack of curiosity. 

Oliver Cummings: Brilliant. Best book every board member should read and why?

Ann Francke: I found this very funny. Lessons in Chemistry. I felt that was a really good book for board members to read because, actually it's very well written, but it is also about really challenging assumptions about you know, what people can and cannot do and how they should or should not be.

And it does so in a very well written and humorous way. I 

Oliver Cummings: love it. I haven't come across that one. I'll look it up. Your favorite quote and why? 

Ann Francke: I have a [00:42:00] PNG quote and a Mars one. My PNG one is, Nobody sees the strategy, only the execution. Now, I've seen the most brilliant strategies ruined by really lousy executions. And I've seen some pretty lousy strategies rescued by brilliant executions. And I just think that's where your, your, the weight has to be is, Yeah, the strategy's important, but how are you executing it?

That's what matters. My Mars quote is, You got to eat your own dog food, meaning you have to walk your own talk. 

Oliver Cummings: Love it. Your most significant professional insight.

Ann Francke: Don't be an accidental manager, right? Well, that 82 percent of us who are promoted into management with no training, you know, I'm not saying you all have to enroll in CMI, but I'm saying be aware that you haven't, you're promoted into a management role with no management leadership [00:43:00] training.

So have some humility and awareness, self awareness around that. And try to educate yourself in how best to manage yourself, your team, and those resources. Because it's not your fault you haven't been taught how to do that. So you can help yourself to learn, or you can ask for support. 

Oliver Cummings: The worst professional advice you've ever received.

Ann Francke: Well, probably the worst professional advice I've ever received is don't dare say anything. Just put up and shut up. Because usually if you're being told that it says quite a lot about the culture of the organization and you know, it's saying that people know that there's maybe something wrong, but they just feel helpless to be able to do anything about it. And, you know, that's when you start sort of sleepwalking yourself into some kind of decline.

Oliver Cummings: What have you changed your mind on about boards over time?

Ann Francke: There's a huge [00:44:00] diversity in kinds of boards. And I think sometimes we're all too stuck on a certain kind of board. So for example, you know, it's got to be a footsie hundred board. I think that's quite limiting. There are so many different kinds of boards.

There are so many different kinds of organizations, and your ability to contribute to those many different kinds of organizations, large, small global, local not for profit, public sector, private sector you know, different ownership structures, there's a real richness in board roles that I think that many candidates and many headhunters overlook.

And I suppose that's where a new role prides itself.

Oliver Cummings: I love that. And last but not least, three things that someone listening today should take away from this podcast if they take nothing else. 

Ann Francke: Be curious. Don't fall for groupthink. [00:45:00] So challenge groupthink. And don't be afraid to be human. It's not saying you ignore the lawyers, but think about the human aspects. of what you're about to say or the decision you're about to take. 

Oliver Cummings: Love that. And you have really inspired me to go away and rethink all of those things, being more, being more curious, avoiding groupthink and being more human. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. 

Ann Francke: You're very welcome, Oliver. I've enjoyed it. Thank you.

Oliver Cummings: And thanks to all of you listening. We've been blown away by the incredible feedback about how this podcast has been helping you get board roles and become better board members. This podcast is for you, so if you'd like to suggest guests, topics, difficult challenges, or you'd like to share stories about how the podcast has impacted you, or have suggestions on how we can improve, please email Podcast at new role.

com that's podcast [00:46:00] at new role. com and let me know. I'd love to hear from you otherwise. Thanks again for listening and look forward to having you back here for the next discussion.

🎙️ You can listen to the full podcast interview with Ann on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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