Written By: Wade Wyant
Red Wagon Advisors
I don’t want to assume your company has a board – whether formal directors or a less-formal board of advisors – but I will tell you this: If you don’t have one, you should.
The presence of a board is evidence of your maturity as a company. And there’s really no reason for why it’s “not the right time” or whatever else CEOs say. You know a lot, but you don’t know everything, and you can’t possibly consider every perspective that might bring value to your business strategies.
And that brings me to my real point: If you’ve got a board, especially if it consists of people who were recruited for their many years of experience, you should consider refreshing its membership.
Specifically, you should try to lower the average age on your board by 10 years.
Now this comes with caveats, of course. If the average age of your board members is 35, I don’t want you getting a bunch of 25-year-olds. People who are young have great energy and great ideas, but experience counts for a lot. You want people on your board who have been around and have seen a few things.
But there’s a balance between experience and fresh perspective. If you have lots of the former but too little of the latter, you’re not getting the value you could be getting out of your board.
At many companies, the typical board members are in their 50s. That’s not hard to understand. People who get recruited to boards tend to have serious experience in corporate leadership. By the time you reach a position like that, and then serve in it for a while, you often find yourself in your 50s.
But if you look at perspective on business issues, there’s a huge difference between the way a 57-year-old thinks and the way a 47-year-old thinks. The 57-year-old probably entered the workforce in the mid-1980s. E-mail didn’t exist. Web sites didn’t exist. E-commerce didn’t exist. By the time these things came along, your 57-year-old board member had grown comfortable with the old system and probably struggled to get accustomed to them.
That same 57-year-old entered a business world with ideas about customer service, personnel policies (they didn’t call it human resources back then) and product development that are very different from the ideas of today.
The 47-year-old entered the workforce in the 1990s. By the time he or she got into upper management, it was at least a decade later. So the 47-year-old has come up in a world that’s much more progressive in its use of technology, in the way it connects to customers and in the way it thinks about growth strategies.
The experience of the older board members is still valuable, of course, but sometimes you have to balance experience with fresher insight.
Recently I heard from a friend about a client who produced a film documentary. The documentary is pretty good. But the client is 72 years old, and guess how he intended to distribute the film: In movie theaters.
After a year of getting nowhere with this, some younger colleagues explained how digital downloads work, and they’ve finally got a strategy that might earn them some money.
This particular 72-year-old has a very impressive track record in business, and he can probably offer lots of great insight to younger entrepreneurs. But he’s not up to speed on everything in the modern world, and he needed the insight of some younger people to help him devise a strategy that will work for him today.
The point here is not to minimize the value of experience. It’s to find the right balance between experience and perspective. Consider the current makeup of your board, and then ask yourself: If the average age on your board was 10 years younger than it is right now, what might you gain? What current innovations or trends might those younger board members recognize and understand?
Also remember: If you’re trying to grow your business, you’d benefit from the perspective of board members who have tackled the growth challenge somewhat recently. The older your board members, the further removed they likely are from their businesses’ own growth periods. They may have had great success, but they might have had it in an era when growth was achieved in very different ways. The younger board members probably faced many of the same challenges and opportunities you did.
Your board members should be helping you to navigate the challenges of today’s business world. The people who can do that best will have modern insights and modern attitudes – not only about business but also about society and people. Granted, when you go younger, it becomes harder to find people with the business track record that would recommend them as good board members. It will take some work to find the best people in the right age group.
Do the work. You won’t be sorry. Strong, effective board members are worth all the effort it requires to find them and keep them.
Start with this question: What would your board be like if it was 10 years younger? Then when you’ve got the picture in your head, make it happen.