Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 bestseller “Outliers – The Story of Success” includes a discussion of how Korean Air changed their organization. Between 1988 and 1998 Korean Air had a crash rate 17 times higher than United Airlines rate of .27 per million departures in the same period. In 2000 Korean Air brought in David Greenberg from Delta to improve flight operations. “But then a small miracle happened. Korean Air turned itself around….Aviation experts will tell you that Korean Air is now as safe as any airline in the world.” How can you change your organization to facilitate greater success?
A theme in plane crash reports was miscommunication. Mr. Greenberg improved flight crew proficiency in aviation English. “When they talked to Air Traffic control anywhere in the world those conversations would be in English. If you are trying to land at JFK at rush hour… you need to be … sure you understand what’s going on.” Do we minimize miscommunication in our board rooms?
You make decisions based on financial statements regularly, board members, even CEOs, do not always know which numbers should be considered together or compared. And they don’t want to ask in front of their peers! Humility only triumphs when passion for the organization is deep. How do you recruit board members with that level of care and then equip them?
Do you recruit board members for their passion for your organization reflected in long-term interest and financial support? This kind of board member may speak up. If you don’t have one, recruit a talented, approachable accountant for your board. Consider providing individual orientation for new board members including training on interpreting reports. Consider providing reports a week before meeting.
It was found that a plane with the copilot in the pilot’s seat and an alert senior officer beside him was safer than a plane piloted by an experienced pilot and a copilot who would not do more than hint (out of respect) at potential dangers. In your boardroom, you might expect people to be bolder than the ultra-respectful Koreans. I have observed new board members fold into unhealthy board cultures. Does your board member contract state that you encourage questions and transparency regarding donations (within the boardroom only)?
Consider developing a board member matrix outlining desired diversity of talent, gender and ethnicity. Do you table a vote if members have questions or hurry through a cluttered agenda? Assigning each action step to one individual for accountability helps with follow-through. Have you surveyed your board members recently for their concerns about your organization? Are you still focused on the goals set at your last strategic planning session?
Do you love the organization you serve? Do you make personal donations annually? Korean Air turned around. “Know that in time those things toward which we move come to be.” – Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor’s Handbook
I am hoping for your every success!