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Trends and Key Issues in Governance for 2023

  1. Attention turns to non-profit governance.

Hockey Canada’s governance was inferior (see independent report, here, and Dr. Leblanc’s media commentary, here and here) but not anomalous. Non-profits (sporting, educational and health care institutions, charities and associations) are often inferior when it comes to CEO succession; culture and conduct oversight; financial, governance and executive pay transparency; cyber-security; in camera sessions; gifts and other forms of self-dealing; term limits; size limits; insiders on committees; director competencies; auditor independence; financial literacy; risk governance; and not retaining independent advice. When a few or more of these shoddy governance practices occur, the board works for management and is a dormant risk.

The excuses for poor NFP governance are many-fold, but mainly is because there are no mandatory governance requirements for the not-for-profit sector. This gives management opportunity manage the board and the drift is too much of an uphill battle to counteract. Look for fresh regulation for the entire non-profit sector in 2023 or 2024, analogous to NP 58-201 (for-profit listed companies). There are significant public expenditures on non-profits, and poor governance wastes funding through self-dealing, mismanagement and impairment of stakeholder confidence.

  1. The emperor wears no clothes.

The for-profit sector is not immune from governance infirmity either. Institutional investors such as Ontario Teachers lost $120M million dollars of teachers’ retirement money on FTX. Another firm invested $150M in a bankrupt crypto investment. Dr Leblanc called for greater regulation of crypto governance and institutional investors to protect investors and retirees (see media interview, here). There still is a tendency to be enamored by misunderstood tech and young inexperienced individuals and fraudsters. Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced to eleven years in prison in 2022, and the ceremonial hand-picked board never ensured validated of the Edison machine. FTX had no independent board and a shocking lack of internal controls (see the independent report here). Boards are present to protect investors and other stakeholders and to ensure proper books, records and controls. Boards need to say “no” if or when they do not understand or cannot assure proper governance. Like Warren Buffet said about technology, here: Do not invest if you do not understand the predictability of the economics of the business.

  1. Regulators set their sights on director competency.

Regulators are focusing on cyber-security and climate expertise and financial literacy. Management should not adjust these competencies, or unduly influence the director competency matrix. If a board has any director on the audit committee who is not financially literate, this is a risk. “Expertise” normally requires 10,000 hours. It is implausible for a director to become an expert whilst on the board. This means that regulatory expertise requirements must involve director renewal and replacement. For the matrix to work, there should be independent validation of director competencies, and the competencies and attributes should be tied to a register, onboarding, and professional development. Many matrixes are manipulations to ensure that the desired director is selected or that under-performers are insulated. The universal proxy cards in late 2023 will give investors greater ability to replace directors who lack the independence and relevant competencies and attributes.

  1. Boards get serious about ethics, culture and reputation.

Fraud and misconduct have increased during the pandemic. Many boards have long argued when ethical misconduct surfaces, “we missed it,” “it was a rogue employee,” or “soft” controls are difficult to implement. The reality is that there are a host of best practices and hard controls that regulators advise and good boards employ to ensure board oversight over ethics, culture and reputation, including: communicated, remedied, anti-retaliatory, anonymous whistle-blowing or safe report procedures; independent investigations; special committee of the board for CEO conduct investigation, other material reputation matters; anti-grooming policy; monitored no gift code, DEI policy, claw-back trigger, just cause, malus clause and sign off procedure; culture, wellness, spot and mystery shopper audits and reporting; exit interview data; integrity and reference checks; mandatory training and education on fair treatment, anti-discrimination and harassment, and unconscious bias; risk, ethics and behavioural gateways embedded in incentive pay for risk-takers and senior management; resume, education and employment verification; criminal record, judicial matter, sanction, offshore leak and vulnerable sector checks; and email and text analytics.

  1. Boards approve playbooks over crises.

Here are crises boards experienced in 2022: encryption and exfiltration, and demand by threat actors for bitcoin payment; assassination of directors by an active shooter; CEO misconduct (all forms); leaks of workplace toxicity to the media; workplace fatalities; adverse brand effects of key employee termination; material loss of services or products; regulatory investigations; and weather-related disasters.

Significant unplanned events are not the realm of only day-to-day management. Crisis is part of risk governance, and internal controls exist prior to a crisis. If the controls are defective, this is the board’s fault for want of oversight. The crisis will be worse. Boards have an active role prior to the crisis, to approve crisis planning; and during the crisis, to oversee management’s response.

Boards in 2022 and 23 are reviewing and approving crisis protocols. This includes media training and the board’s prerogative to establish a special committee if the crisis is material and requires longer-term oversight and root cause remedy, e.g., independent investigation. See here, where Dr Leblanc talks about such a playbook in light of the Rogers outage and Suncor fatalities. Dr. Leblanc will be giving a keynote address on risk and crisis governance on January 24th and a module for CEOs and Chairs on media relations on February 2nd (slides can be provided upon request).

  1. Post-COVID focus is on non-financial.

Investors and regulators continue their emphasis on non-financial strategic value drivers. This is because most of the value of a company is non-financial. And COVID-19 has shown that non-financial can kill. In Canada, codifying the Supreme Court, federal regulation changed as the pandemic began to enable boards to consider the impacts of decisions on the long-term, on the environment, and to consider stakeholder interests, including those of shareholders, employees, creditors and consumers, with no primacy towards any stakeholder. Institutional investors want transparency over the full value chain, and this means activists may and are attacking any portion of this chain. When a board approves the strategic plan without all value drivers and key performance indicators to measure their achievement, they are exposed themselves to regulatory, plaintiff, or investor scrutiny. Good boards are focusing now on the complete value chain, including stakeholders and non-financial drivers of value.

  1. Changing risks require boards to act.

Boards have been operating under stable risk conditions in the aughts and teens. As risks change rapidly, boards need to keep up and insist that the controls, limitations and assurance are present and remedied. There is still immaturity and complacency by many boards in not exercising their duty of care and insisting on curing of defective controls of new, material non-financial or emerging risks. Risks include crisis, culture, interest rates, inflation, geo-political impact on the business model, safety, resiliency, redundancy, retention and ransomware. Risk-adjusted compensation, including risk-taker pay and claw-backs, are also immature, with boards not reacting to changing conditions in real time. Boards are also complacent and slow in receiving independent assurance and instructing investment in technology to monitor changing risks more continuously.

A board speaks with one voice, so all directors should keep up with science, facts and accurate information from validated sources as part of duty of care.

  1. Chair and director recruitment professionalizes.

Boards in 2022 began, slowly, not tolerating top heavy entrenchment or inferior director recruitment. There has been an uptick in explicit policies on recruitment and appointment criteria; disclosing and managing conflicts of interest and pre-existing relationships; containing management funneling; full and diverse talent pool outreach; resumes to match desired competencies; attributes and proper interviews; background checks; even-handed, transparent and inclusive application; chair and director term limits; robust mandatory onboarding; off-boarding under-performing directors; and linking re-appointment to peer review. These practices will continue for effective boards.

  1. Agile governance is becoming the norm.

Boards are not going back to exclusively in person board or annual meetings. Hybrid and virtual meetings offer flexibility and convenience. Investment in technology in boardrooms occurred in 2022 to enable this. Blended meetings are also shorter, more flexible, and enable less warm up time. Other agile trends include (i) strategic, shorter, responsive, deliberative and forward-looking agendas; (ii) tighter pre-reads, with greater narratives, layering and consents/appendices; (iii) emphasis on prework and preparation, with presentation time limited and discussion time enhanced; (iv) on-camera and virtual technology standardization in boardrooms and remotely; (v) removing some non-financial risks from the audit committee; (vi) more board-management inception partnering on strategy; (vii) director recruitment less anchored to geography; (viii) flexibility, emphasis on availability, and “micro” or issue meetings; and (ix) chair-director check-in calls.

  1. The best cyber defense is a cyber offence.

There is an aggressiveness here that is beginning to emerge, so a company is less of a target. This includes robust ransomware policies; zero trust deployment; user, network, third party and WFH controls; penetration, back-up and restoration testing; ethical in-house hackers; prompt and effective control curing; a playbook for when the attack happens; advance discussion of payment; encryption and exfiltration tech first-responders and negotiators on the ready; most important, robust continuous testing using NIST, OSFI and Five Eyes; cyber-security expertise on the board; and a full IOF (independent oversight function) bench to provide assurance to the relevant board committee overseeing ransomware; and impenetrability assurance reporting to the full board. As digitization occurs, including companies using AI, AVR, blockchain, cloud/edge, drones, IoT/Metaverse and RPA, the risks and controls are in parity, or the technology cannot be deployed.

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Board of Directors Checklist for 2022

The following are what effective Boards of Directors will be focusing on in 2022.

  1. Revised Strategic Plan and KPIs

The pandemic has recut most plans, and management should be coming forward with shorter term plans that can be overseen by the board. Strategy is not “out the window” or “put on hold” during the pandemic. Good boards, especially during disruption, will ensure management brings forward a staged plan, with board input, that reflects changing circumstances. Values, purpose, vision, mission, business model, value drivers, key performance indicators, and risks, should all be reviewed, in writing, and approved by the board. It is difficult for the board to re-assert itself if it lets go of strategy. Boards should be moving from crisis to strategy and performance oversight under disruption.

  1. Digitization of the Business Model

Boards should be thinking up and out, and never be in denial. I am seeing almost 50% of business models now comprising digital and data. Every organization has a business model wether management makes it explicit for the board or not. WFH has accelerated digitization, and boards should understand AI, IoT, blockchain and automation’s impact on the company’s business model. Boards that are very good will link the business model to directors’ skills.

  1. Revised Risk Appetite Framework and Control Assurance

Steady state risks have been replaced with supply reliability, inflation, succession, labor costs and retention, data integrity, economic, employee safety, social expectations, climate, digitization and regulation. As the risks change, the duty of care follows, with good boards having lines of sight to internal controls and assurance that the controls are working, as a prudent director under similar circumstances. Boards that wait, or do not act when risks change (including climate, discussed next), are at risk and may become a litigation or investor target.

  1. A Path To Net Zero

If a board delays action on the company’s path to net zero GHG emissions for want of more regulation and certainty, activist investors and plaintiffs’ attorneys may target (i) the company for not disclosing true climate risks; (ii) directors for breaching their duty of care by not acting as a prudent director would act under similar circumstances; and (iii) directors for not adequately considering the long-term interests of the environment under recent legal changes. Short-term steady progress to net zero carbon emissions, that is performance and industry benchmarked, using standard setters, and is accurately disclosed, will be on good boards’ agendas in 2022.

  1. Data Security, Including Backup and Restoration

When exfiltration and encryption have occurred, and threat actors demand a ransom be paid in crypto currency on the dark web, the company faces significant liability. NIST- and Five Eyes-benchmarked internal controls to protect the perimeter and crown jewels, with regular back up and restoration testing, avoids becoming a target and limits liability. Weak WFH cyber-hygiene and human error are addressed by good boards. A ransomware policy should be reviewed and approved by the board in 2022 if not already done.

  1. Retention and Succession Risks

Omicron variant illness (or worse if unvaccinated) and isolation is real, within key functions and sectors of at-risk employees. CEOs are unexpectedly resigning because of exhaustion. The HR committee should be reviewing contingency plans for key officer illness and emergency plans for the CEO because of health, resignation or otherwise. A similar succession plan should be reviewed by the board for key board leadership roles. Having an evergreen list and high potential talent on the internal bench should be reviewed by the committee and brought forward to the board for a full discussion in early 2022.

  1. Employee Well-Being and Safety

Loneliness, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and radicalization are going up under COVID-19 and remote work. Vaccine mandates, WFH policies and practices, and safety and wellness risk are not the prerogative of management and immune from board oversight. Good boards are exercising their duty of care and fiduciary duty to review all the foregoing, ensuring consistency with COVID regulations. Wellness outreach, CEO mindset, science updates, exit interviews, culture surveys and internal controls over an airborne virus are now standard reporting in leading boardrooms.

  1. Robust, Accurate and Disclosed ESG

Has the board approved which items within E, S and G will be the focus of management? Were the items strategic, peer and industry benchmarked? When the items were approved, were the performance measurements approved also, and independently audited against third party standards? Will performance by the company against the standards be full, true and plain? In 2022, boards should prepare for significant investor demands of all the above. Assume also that any self-interest, cherry-picking or sugar-coating, by management without board scrutiny, will be detected and acted upon by investors. Assume also that any competitive arguments against deep ESG disclosure will fall on deaf ears of both investors and regulators.

  1. Financial Oversight and Stress-Testing

As Omicron rages, has the board requested stress-tested financial statements under prolonged adverse conditions? Director duties receive enhanced scrutiny under financial distress, and boards are obligated to act even when management does not. Boards should pay particular attention to loan covenants, fair treatment of creditors, aggressive accounting, contractual obligations, impairments, deferrals, related party transactions, compliance with conditions of receiving government aid, insurance obligations, management forecasts and disclosure obligations.

  1. Saying Thank You

The last two years have been truly extraordinary. Board chairs tell me that an important item on their board’s agenda now is leading by example and saying, “thank you.” Saying thank you, authentically, to directors, to management, and to employees (and especially health care, educational and customer-facing) for their extraordinary sacrifice in the face of ongoing adversity. This gratitude should be communicated to all employees and key suppliers by senior management, for retention and goodwill purposes. See a very good example of this, here.

Dr Richard Leblanc is the Editor of The Handbook of Board Governance, published by Wiley in 2020.

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Can A Harvey Weinstein Situation Happen to Your Board?

Here is a hypothetical situation that I have encountered many times.

I am invited to observe and assess a board. When I do, I immediately see the red flags. I make hard-hitting recommendations, which have included the CEO and certain directors being fired.

Why does it take me to do what the board should have been doing much earlier?

Boards can be very defensive, and even in denial to what is blindingly obvious. “We missed it” or “it was a rogue employee” is their common defense.

Boards are now asking, “Could a Harvey Weinstein situation happen to us?”

The board’s role in overseeing corporate culture, potential harassment, and other conduct risk is increasingly being turned to by boards and regulators.

Here are twelve suggestions for boards to oversee conduct risk properly within their organizations. The best boards I work with do all of this. The worst do not.

  1. Act on your hunch.

If you have a question or concern, most of the board shares the same concern. Ask the question, and ask the second question. And if you don’t like what the answer is, press further. Where there is smoke, there is often fire. I have interviewed over a thousand directors over my career. The most common regret directors have is twofold: (i) I didn’t speak up when I should have; and (ii) I didn’t fire the CEO soon enough. One corporate secretary after a recent public scandal told me, “when the board does not ask questions, we have succeeded.”

  1. Insist on proper whistle-blowing.

Many whistle-blowing programs are flawed. They are not anonymous, protected, independent, rewarded or remedied. That is the board’s fault. Not surprisingly, people (especially women) do not come forward for fear of retaliation and career harm. If you think conduct risk is not occurring within your organization, you are wrong. It is just a question of degree. Bad news needs to rise, and go around management and directly to boardrooms. If bad news does not rise to the board, it does not go away. It gets worse. Good boards insist on proper channels directly to them.

  1. Renew your board regularly.

New directors see things that long-serving directors may not see or may be accustomed to. A fresh set of eyes can be invaluable. Have term limits for directors or regulators will impose them for you as is being done in several countries. Have a diverse board. Homogenous boards engage in group-think and do not ask tough questions.

  1. Do rigorous interviews and background checks.

Ensure that employees, agents, management and directors go through thorough and ongoing background, reference, social media, personality, criminal and financial checks and testing. People’s personality will not change. If you do not know someone’s faults, you have not done your homework, and they are a risk to your reputation.

  1. Remove management regularly from boardrooms.

Remove management from a portion of each board and committee meeting. Have a safe space so directors can speak confidentially. These “in camera” sessions are the main way that directors voice their concerns not within earshot of management. In camera sessions are the greatest contributor to board effectiveness, directors tell me.

  1. Act immediately at the first sign of an ethical lapse.

The standard you walk by is that standard you accept. When you see discrimination, disparagement, or unfair treatment, call it out. Speak up. And when necessary, fire the CEO or senior manager at the first sign of a lack of ethics. Otherwise, you signal to the entire organization what is acceptable to you. Boards have suffered by not acting when they should have. And if your board does not act when it should, resign.

  1. Receive dis-confirming information on company culture and executives.

If you get all your information from management, you are only hearing one side. Receive your own social media analytics, look at chat rooms, hear from employees, use google alerts, commission independent reviews, hear from reporters and analysts, walk around, and listen to what you hear and observe.

This does not mean that you are micro-managing, only that you are getting full information. If management tries to block you or dominate your information flow, that is a red flag.

  1. Receive employee feedback.

Retain survey providers to conduct employee morale surveys that are directly provided to the board and untampered with by senior management. Ask for qualitative exit interview results, staff turnover rates and litigation compared to your peers. Consider putting an employee on your board, or having an advisory committee or a designated director to represent the employee viewpoint.

  1. Look at how employees are paid.

People behave and take risks based on how they are paid, including customer-facing employees all the way to senior management and your CEO. Look at how pay incents conduct. Make sure that employee engagement forms a healthy portion of CEO incentive pay.

  1. Protect yourself and the company.

Benchmark management contracts for conduct and ethics clauses. Define just cause for dismissal to include ethics. Have fair treatment form part of all employment contracts. Ensure your Code of Ethics and Diversity Policy are conditions for incentive pay to vest, and claw it back if you discover misconduct after the fact.

  1. Benchmark your diversity and inclusion policy and practices.

Many human resource policies are legalistic and do not provide adequate examples and training. Train on unconscious biases. Provide examples of heterosexism, islamophobia and transphobia. Have voluntary, confidential self-identification of gender identity and LGBTTIQQ2A. Have a diversity and inclusion best practice presentation directly to the board of directors, as tone flows down from this.

  1. Be vigorous in your fiduciary duty.

Management may play the trust, confidence or micromanaging card. Press on. Insist on behavioural and integrity controls, and independent auditing of these by the internal auditor, who should report directly to you, not management. Many conduct failures have happened because senior management blocked access to the auditors from the board. Have internal audit test the controls for culture and integrity (including complaints, reaction time, investigation protocols, record keeping and non-retaliation) and report directly to you on their findings.


Governance is changing. Board are becoming far more active and are investing significant time in their duties and responsibilities.

There are occasions where the best efforts will fail, but for the most part conduct failure happens when a board is complacent and fails to act when it should.

Dr. Richard Leblanc, Editor of The Handbook of Board Governance (Wiley, 2016), can be reached at rleblanc@yorku.ca.



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The Board’s Number One Job: CEO Succession

A board’s number one job is to hire and fire the CEO. Everything else is secondary. If a board gets CEO succession right, the company will prosper. If the board hires the wrong CEO, the company and the board will fail.

Many boards perform CEO succession poorly. According to one study, boards spend, on average, only two hours a year on CEO succession planning. When I ask directors what their number one regret is, the answer that I receive most frequently is “not firing the CEO sooner.”

Why is CEO succession so difficult for boards? I have a good idea of why boards perform poorly on this important task, and how to get it right.

Here are three recent case studies that have been heavily disguised. I will then discuss what boards should do to improve CEO succession.

First board: I was in a board meeting of a global company, where I saw the CEO in action. Then it hit me: This is the wrong CEO, and the problems that the company has been having are due to this under-performing CEO. I asked the CEO to leave the room. I advised the Board to administer an employee survey, with results directly reported to the Board. When the results were a failure, I recommended firing the CEO. The internal CEO successor bench was weak, so an existing Director was tapped to be Interim CEO, and the Board is now hiring a permanent CEO. This Board should have acted much sooner. This was a CEO hire fail because two Directors pressed for this CEO, whom the Directors knew, and the Board agreed.

Second board: I was in a board meeting of a large public company. The CEO was pushing back, interrupting directors, and interrupting me. I asked the Board Chair to instruct the CEO to leave the room in order that I may have an in-camera session with the Independent Directors. After the CEO left, I found out that a CEO-ready internal successor was still three or four years out. The incumbent CEO was resisting coaching. I told the entire Board that they have failed in CEO succession planning. Poor CEO succession planning was why the incumbent CEO was dominating the board. The Board had no options.

Third board: I was in a board meeting after a high profile risk management failure at the company. The current CEO was weak and I predicted would buckle under a crisis. Except this time, the CEO had been blocking Board access by a potential CEO successor for over a year. And another potential successor was not being given resources by the incumbent CEO to prove himself. I worked with the Board Chair to construct a “horse race” CEO succession model, like GE and CIBC did, for the top three officers. I made sure that the first officer was regularly exposed to the Board, and the second officer received responsibilities for profit and loss. I also advised the Board to do a global external search at the same time. All three officers were told that they were also competing against global talent, as well as each other. Each internal CEO candidate had six months to prove themselves to the Board. The former CEO was replaced by the highest performing officer, and the company prospered significantly.

These three companies were caught flat-footed with CEO succession. These boards should have had CEO succession right, but failed. If these companies failed, with some outstanding directors on them, other companies can fail on CEO succession.

Why does CEO succession fail? Three reasons.

  1. The incumbent CEO refuses to cooperate. No CEO ever really wants to replace him- or            herself. However, CEO succession is the board’s responsibility, not that of the incumbent         CEO.
  2. Boards do not proceed pregressively and step-by-step. Boards skip steps or, worse yet, allow emotion, preference, capture, social relationships, or bias to creep in.
  3. There is no actual CEO succession plan. Every board should have an emergency CEO succession plan and a longer-term plan. The longer-term plan contains a line of sight for    the Board to: the high potential talent pipeline; what grooming and development is    necessary to make this talent CEO-ready; and what the time frame and resources are for            this readiness. Internal CEO talent costs less than external talent and is more successful.

There should be a CEO succession planning process, which may include:

  • Regular discussions and reporting on CEO succession by the Board;
  • A dedicated Board Committee who reviews and recommends CEO succession planning;
  • Board approval of the strategic plan;
  • Prioritized attributes of the CEO who can achieve the plan;
  • A recruitment strategy (internal candidates, external candidates, or both);
  • Matching profiles and resumes to attributes to create the long list;
  • Background, social media, reference, criminal and credit checks;
  • Information packages for prospective CEOs;
  • Initial interviews and ranking to a short list;
  • More due diligence on top candidates, second interviews;
  • Salary, incentive, and benefit pay established, and linked to the strategy;
  • Terms sheet and draft employment contract;
  • Invitation for Directors to meet top finalists;
  • Final interviews, recommendation to full Board;
  • Board approves top two candidates;
  • Finalize employment contract and pay with successful candidate;
  • Onboarding, CEO performance review after 6 and 12 months; and
  • Updates to full Board on all of the above.

The board should discuss the longer-term succession plan in the absence of the incumbent CEO. If the incumbent CEO, whose views on potential successor are relevant but should not be determinative, does not cooperate, or blocks access, this is a warning sign. Make CEO succession worth a healthy percentage of the CEO’s pay. Then watch the CEO cooperate. CEOs behave the way CEOs are paid.

CEO succession planning should start day one of the new CEO’s hire. Do not wait. You know you have CEO planning right when you can fire the incumbent CEO at any time. Anything can happen and you want to be ready. Ethical transgressions, non-performance, accidents, or illness are regular occurrences. CEO succession is all about leverage and the board having options.

If the CEO pushes back and says that you don’t have confidence in him or her, correct the CEO. You have confidence in the CEO (or you do not), but are doing your job. If the CEO does not cooperate, the CEO should be fired. Never be beholden to a CEO. CEOs are replaceable and it is the work of the Board to do this.

Dr. Richard Leblanc, Editor of The Handbook of Board Governance (Wiley, 2016), can be reached at rleblanc@yorku.ca.


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How Tweeting by a PwC Partner During the Oscars Sullied PwC’s Reputation and Offers Lessons for Distracted Board Members

PwC partner, Brian Cullinan, evidently was tweeting backstage moments before he handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty, resulting in reputational damage for PwC in its assurance role over award envelopes and the announcing of the wrong award for Best Picture.

Social media use can become an addiction, and can compromise not only reputation, but decision-making as well.

The most common complaint I have during my reviews of boards of directors’ performance is distracted directors. I see distracted directors in boardrooms and distracted students in classrooms all the time. More leadership and common sense is needed by board chairs and professors.

I was auditing a graduate university class recently, and most of the students were on their laptops, typing away, apparently oblivious to the lecture occurring in front of them. Their eyes were not on the professor or their colleagues. They were not engaged in the moment. This is like directors looking at iPads and laptops during the board meeting instead of each other.

I stopped the class and asked what the point was that the professor had just made. No one could answer. I instructed all students to close their laptops and discontinue all technology for the remainder of the class. Further, students were not to consult any notes and stay in the moment for the entire class.

In another board meeting, the board chair was obsessively using his cellphone during the board meeting. When I walk around boardrooms and classrooms, I see directors and students typing, answering emails, texting, using social media – in other words, not doing their job.

The laptop creates a physical and psychological barrier. It also takes two hands to type, as opposed to one hand to write.

Certain Toronto high-schools announced a few days ago that they are banning cellphones from classrooms. Hospitals and courtrooms also ban the use of cellphones.

The answer for boardrooms and classrooms is not to ban technology, but rather to use technology to enhance individual and meeting performance, not diminish it.

You are four times as likely to be distracted when you use technology. Studies show that retention increases when notes are taken the old-fashioned way, on paper, rather than on a computer. Technology does not necessarily enhance performance; indeed, studies show it may diminish it.

If you are prepared for class or a for board meeting, there is no need for any technology, or very many notes for that matter. The use of technology, including PowerPoint slides, can be a safety blanket or used to manipulate your audience. If a person reads PowerPoint slides, chances are they are unprepared, and further, you have a weak board chair or weak professor.

A great board – management discussion or presentation can occur without any technology whatsoever. Think of twenty years ago when this technology did not exist. Some of the best discussions that I have moderated and witnessed in boardrooms and classrooms do not include any technology.

What is the answer for boards of directors and classrooms, and the use of technology?

•    Resist the use of technology simply because it is available. The litmus test for technology is performance.
•    Lay down the rule if you are the board chair or professor: No technology unless it is directly related to the meeting. And lead by example.
•    Make sure all discussions, agendas and information are relevant, to respect your audience’s time, and resist their temptation to be distracted.
•    Insist on full preparation and focus on the discussion. The discussion is where the learning and important decisions get made.
•    Have students submit 2-page summaries of the readings at the start of class, to validate their preparation.
•    The foregoing would be draconian for directors, but it is blindingly obvious to directors who is prepared for the meeting and who is not. Have a system to enforce preparation.
•    Insist on peer assessment of directors and students.
•    Make sure that you can see someone’s eyes. If you cannot see their eyes, chances are they are distracted.
•    Take frequent breaks to use technology for personal purposes.
•    Insist on in-person meetings to the fullest extent possible.
•    Self-police any errant director or student who cannot comply with the above.
•    Most of all, lead by example.

Dr. Richard Leblanc, Editor of The Handbook of Board Governance (Wiley, 2016), can be reached at rleblanc@yorku.ca.

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