It is well known that every issue of the Harvard Business Review includes a case study, an interesting business situation calling for a decision, with three expert commentaries. The decision mapping methodology fits these case studies very well, as I illustrated in a previous post.
Every month Julie Garland McLellan, an Australian consultant to company directors and Boards, provides a case study quite similar to the Harvard exemplars, though focused on challenges arising in the Board arena. She says: “I advise Boards and Directors on complex and challenging issues which can be resolved in a variety of ways. Each way has different pros and cons for the individuals and companies concerned. Every month this newsletter considers three responses to a real issue. Which response would you choose?” (My emphasis.)
The current Director’s Dilemma describes a situation in which the Chairman is behaving indiscretely, and a director, Ashleigh, is concerned about this. But what should be done? The three commentaries, one by Julie herself, are rich in advice. I took some time today to map it all out. These maps (a) merge ideas from both the case itself and the three commentaries; and (b) don’t attempt to add any options or arguments of my own into the mix.
Click here or on the image for a zoomable pdf version.
(1) The three commentaries provided advice in three different categories: things that should be done by the Board in general, things that the Board should do specifically with regard to the Chairman, and things that Ashleigh specifically should do. In the maps I’ve separated these out.
(2) Between them, the commentators make lots of suggestions.
(3) Cursory inspection of the maps makes it obvious that the commentaries are long on advice and short on arguments. The maps are dominated by yellow (options, i.e., “possible things that might be done”) and have very little green and red (pros and cons, reasons and objections, evidence). In other words, the commentators suggest lots of things that may or should be done, but provide very little by way of justification for any of these. This is despite the case being prefaced by the remark that “Each way has different pros and cons…”
(4) If the commentators are not providing much (if anything) by way of explicit grounds for accepting or rejecting any of the canvassed options, why would the reader be inclined or obliged to endorse any of them? Implicitly, I think, the commentators expecting readers to do two things. First, readers should fill in the missing arguments themselves, as much as they are able. Second, the commentators are relying on their status as authorities. It is as if they had said “Trust me on this; I’m a knowledgeable expert; this is what should happen.”
Either the case has not been set out properly or this is not a “complex and challenging issue” requiring input from a high-powered consultant. Or maybe the nuances of the problem are only recognizable by the experts in this area.
What has the Chairman done wrong? Very little that I can see, on the facts presented.
Talked publicly and privately about wealth likely to flow through the company and the community. Common practice, particularly when developments are in the public domain – as they surely must be as government policy initiatives – and there are also likely to be negative or perceived negative impact on the community from developments. It’s the kind of thing government ministers talk about all the time. The devil is in the detail, as it often is; what is he saying?
Unaware of the potential for conflicts of interest? The conflict exists whether he speaks about the wealth or not. It could be argued that being open about the coming wealth is more healthy than real conflicts of interest when the wealth is carved up in secret back room deals or the Chairman is going around secretly obtaining interests in businesses and assets likely to benefit.
Are the other two in there unintentionally as distracters?
He’s upset – unintentionally – a visiting Japanese delegation. How? There are hundreds of different ways for visitors from a range of cultures to be unintentionally upset. Did he tread on a hidden mine or do something absurdly silly e.g. mention the war?
“Lovely ladies”. Surely a simple fix – tell him to be circumspect with visitors. Presumably that sort of thing is alright with the residents?
Ashleigh and the CEO should pay careful attention to their own future:
• 3.8 Shareholder Ministers may, at their discretion, remove directors prior to the completion of their term of appointment.
a. In the event that a GBE is not performing satisfactorily, the Shareholder Ministers will initiate prompt remedial action. Dismissal of the directors would be considered, particularly in any case of failure to keep Ministers adequately informed, and in situations of ongoing under-performance in respect of financial or other aspects of the operations of the business.