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No surprises! Good advice for all of us.

First, keep your manager or board informed regularly.

Most all leaders new to their position underestimate this time requirement.  It is good for the company when you share concerns, threats and opportunities with your superiors or your board.  The rule of “no surprises” works well for your longevity.  But there are always surprises. The rule is: communicate with individuals or a committee of the whole as soon as possible when important issues or threats to the corporation arise.

Safety, protection, and transparency.

You might be late with a project, sense a possible safety issue, see something or someone breaking the law, or just uncomfortable with a condition or trend. Think of the whistleblowers at Boeing and other very visible corporations.  In the name of safety, they took the chance to step forward.

Involving the board or investors

And sometimes you or your CEO want to obtain concurrence from investors or the board for issues of urgency or importance.  It is not bad form to lobby individual members in the form of a briefing of the issue and give time for the investors or board to debate the issue, sometimes requesting an “executive session” of just the outside directors.

For your senior management or board, this could be time-consuming. 

[ Email readers, continue here…]   Gathering facts may take time but certainly be worth the effort to make the case and reinforce the sense of urgency. The CEO is also responsible for preparing information for investors and for the board, the board briefing package before regular board meetings.  It’s a time-consuming task if done correctly.

What happens to urgent issues when brought to the board?

Especially when there are urgent issues such as surprises to reveal and dissect, the board meeting package should contain the issues to be discussed with backup materials for the board to understand the issues.

Limiting the discussion to those important issues and decisions.

Operating statistics in detail and individual departmental issues that do not rise to the level of board discussion should be included only in an appendix for board and investor meetings for deeper reading, but not discussion.  The CEO should discuss the agenda and board package contents with the chairman (if the chair is a different person) since the chair is tasked with setting the agenda and controlling the meeting.

The time you take to prepare for these urgent discussions is well worth the effort.  But if there is a time bomb to reveal, such as a safety issue, then urgency trumps detailed preparation. You have a responsibility, and in many cases, the authority to step up and make issues noticed, sometimes public, and often easily resolved.

Images created with DALL-E AI using the following prompt: “Casually dressed executive informing group of serious issue at the company with five people listening, some with surprise, some with pensive thought. Realistic human images.”


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