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The role of boards is to ‘put sand in the shoes of management’

Tom Fox | March 14, 2018

One of the ongoing questions from members of boards of directors is how to resolve the tension between oversight and managing.

An excellent starting point to understanding this role is to consider the metaphor, “put sand in the shoes of management,” meaning that boards need to continually challenge management on the scenarios that management has considered and what stories it is telling itself about what could go wrong. Moreover, as aptly shown by the phrase, “boards need to get management out of its comfort zone,” executive teams begin to believe about themselves and how well they are doing. The independent challenge that the board can offer is that by putting that little bit of sand in the shoe of management it makes sure management is thinking about things carefully.

The key role of the board is not management, but oversight focusing on governance. To have good oversight, an effective board should challenge senior management not only on what they have planned for,...

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