Boardroom success: it ain't what you say

Being heard in a debate over strategy decisions comes down to style as much as substance...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

At least that's according to research from Said Business School, which explores what executives do to ensure they have a say in the boardroom. Apparently, expertise can apparently only take you so far. Sounds obvious, but the report reveals some curious specifics about how successful managers prove their credibility - down even to whether you choose a whiteboard or a flip-chart.

The survey's author professor Richard Whittington watched videos of strategists in action, and found that those who succeeded in the formulation of strategy were going beyond analysis and debating techniques, and were ‘skilfully manipulating the props available to them to increase their influence upon the decisions that emerge'. We gather that means exerting the correct level of puppet-mastery over a whiteboard.

Whittington concluded that while content on a whiteboard has to be erased to advance conversation, a flip chart can record the progression of a debate. Whittington suggests that those who decide which to use most shrewdly will have an advantage. ‘Many others are not even aware of the potential impact of such decisions,' he says. We can imagine.

But it's not just about how you use the kit. It's also about how you orchestrate the meeting's key moments to bring people in and out of the conversation, and about how you communicate strategy to investors and analysts. ‘We neglect the theatrical performance skills of CEOs at our peril,' says Whittington. It's a good point: who hasn't been bored to tears by one seemingly endless drone, only to be swayed by the next speaker simply because she was engaging? When we talk of boardroom drama it's perhaps more pertinent than we think.

For our part, we'd tend to favour a flip-chart over a whiteboard when trying to impress. The former offers a dramatic flourish, in the flick of the wrist and the sound of ideas ripping from the board; while the latter involves wiping thoughts away with a cloth, with all the drama of mopping up after a baby.

But we'd suggest knocking before going in to borrow the office flip chart. Otherwise you may find yourself interrupting a pre-meeting warm-up, with the deputy CEO urging the chief to ‘be the teapot'.

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