News Corp and Questions Boards Need to Ask

by Rob Kaplan for Harvard Business Review, July 18th, 2011.

Much has been written and said regarding News Corp and its activities in the UK, and serious questions have been raised about the leadership and culture of this company. Some of these questions have been directed at the company’s board of directors: did it properly fulfill its independent fiduciary responsibilities in overseeing this global organization? While there is a temptation to pile on, I would prefer to comment on what can be learned from this situation.

This and other leadership crises of the past few years raise several key questions for boards of directors. In particular, how does a board really know the leadership style of its senior operating management and the culture of the company for which it has fiduciary responsibility?

Most boards do a good job of evaluating their CEOs and senior leadership teams based on specific operating metrics. Unfortunately, these same boards often have very little process in place to judge the leadership style, daily behaviors, and cultural norms being established by their senior operating leadership. As a result, board judgments are frequently based on observing senior management in relatively formal presentation settings and receiving narrative information regarding company culture — typically from the CEO. Too often, by the time directors realize there is a culture or leadership style problem at the company, it is too late to have prevented real damage to the business, reputation, and careers of senior executives.

I would suggest that boards need to regularly ask themselves whether they have a firm grasp on the operating style and role modeling behaviors of their senior leadership teams. If after candid debate and discussion they realize they don’t have a firm grasp on these questions, they need to assert their independence and consider actions which would allow them to get a better reading. (continue reading… )

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