How boards can leverage AI strategy
December 17, 2019
It’s time for boards to craft an AI led strategy . Three strategic aspects can help them and senior leaders to augment decision making process in the board meetings
In the boardroom, and the head of a major global conglomerate is in the hot seat. A director with a background in the manufacturing industry is questioning the economics, an assumption underlying the executive’s industry forecast: that the industry’s ratio of forecast will remain relatively constant. The business leader appears confident about the assumption of stability, which has implications for both the competitive environment and for financial results. But the director isn’t convinced: “In my experience, the forecast changes continuously with the economic cycle and needs to bake in assumptions,” he says, “and I’d feel a whole lot better about these estimates if you had some facts to prove that this has changed.” and the rest of the board doesn’t have it. Finally, the chairman intervenes: “The question being raised is critical and not just for our manufacturing business but for our entire strategy. We’re not going to resolve this today, but let’s make sure it’s covered thoroughly during our strategy off-site and he added , “let’s have some good staff work in place to inform the discussion.”
If the preceding exchange sounds familiar, it should: in the wake of the financial crisis, we find that uncomfortable conversations such as this one are increasingly common in boardrooms around the world as corporate directors and executives come to grips with a changed environment. Ensuring that a company has a great strategy is among a board’s most important functions and the ultimate measure of its stewardship. Yet even as new governance responsibilities and faster competitive shifts require much more—and much better—board engagement on strategy, a great number of boards remain hamstrung by familiar challenges.
Enter AI led strategy for boards
For starters, there’s the problem of time: most boards have about six to eight meetings a year and are often hard pressed to get beyond compliance-related topics to secure the breathing space needed for developing strategy. A recent survey of board members to learn where they’d most like to spend additional time, two out of three picked strategy. A related finding was that 44 percent of directors said their boards simply reviewed and approved management’s proposed strategies. Why such limited engagement? One likely reason is an expertise gap: only 10 percent of the directors felt that they fully understood the industry dynamics in which their companies operated. As a result, only 21 percent of them claimed to have a complete understanding of the current strategy .
What’s more, there’s often a mismatch between the time horizons of board members and of top executives , and that lack of alignment can diminish a board’s ability to engage in well-informed give-and-take about strategic trade-offs. “The chairman of my company has effectively been given a decade,” says the CEO of a company “and I have three years—tops—to make my mark. If I come up with a strategy that looks beyond the current cycle, I can never deliver the results expected from me. Yet I am supposed to work with him to create long-term shareholder value. How am I supposed to make this work?” It’s a fair question, particularly since recent shows that major strategic moves involving active capital reallocation deliver higher shareholder returns than more passive approaches over the long haul, but lower returns over time frames of less than three years.
Compounding these challenges is the increased economic volatility prompting many companies to rethink their strategic rhythm, so that it becomes less calendar driven and formulaic and more a journey involving frequent and regular dialogue among a broader group of executives. To remain relevant, boards must join management on this journey, and management in turn must bring the board along—all while ensuring that strategic co-creation doesn’t become confusion or, worse, shadow management. This is where curating AI strategy for competitive advantage and informed decision making comes to the picture.
Three strategic aspects to ponder on AI led strategy for Boards :
While no one-size-fits-all solution can guide companies as they set out, board members and senior managers ask themselves three simple questions as they approach the development of AI strategy. Using it should raise the quality of decision making , overall engagement and help determine the practical steps each group must take to get there. The usual annual strategic refresh is unlikely to provide the board with an appreciation of the context it would need to address the questions fully, let alone to generate fresh insights in response.
1.Can AI make the boards understand the industry dynamics
Most boards spend most of their strategic time reviewing plans, yet relatively few directors feel they have a complete understanding of the dynamics of the industries their companies operate in or even of how those companies create value. To remedy this problem and to avoid the superficiality it can engender, boards need time—some without management present—so they can more fully understand the structure and economics of the business, as well as how it creates value. They should use this time to get ahead of issues rather than always feeling a step behind during conversations on strategy or accepting management biases or ingrained habits of thought.AI can lay out comprehensive picture of industry and competitive industry dynamics with historical and future forward looking scenarios to make the job of the boards simpler.
2. Can AI trigger enough board–management debate before a specific strategy is discussed?
Aided thru AI and armed with a foundational view based on a clearer understanding of industry and company economics, boards are in a better position to have the kinds of informed dialogue with senior managers that ultimately help them prepare smarter and more refined strategic options for consideration. Board members should approach these discussions with data driven mind-set and with the goal of helping management to broaden its thinking by considering new, even unexpected, perspectives.
During such debates, management’s role is to introduce key pieces of content: a detailed review of competitors, key external trends likely to affect the business, and a view of the specific capabilities the company can use to differentiate itself. The goal of the dialogue is to develop a stronger, shared understanding of the skills and resources the company can use to produce strong returns, as opposed to merely moving with the tide. This is where boards can evangelize and seep in AI in the senior executives group for broader knowledge augmentation .
3.Can AI bring in all strategic options and approaches to the table for board and management ?
Very often, the energizing discussions between the board and management about the business, its economics, and the competition represent the end of the debate. Afterward, the CEO and top team go off to develop a plan that is then presented to the board for approval. Instead, what’s needed at this point is for management to take some time—go thru the self-learning enabled algorithm —to formulate a robust set of strategic options, each followed through to its logical end state, including the implications for the allocation of people, capital, and other resources. These strategic options through the revised algorithmic exercise can then be brought back to the board for discussion and decision making.
Developing AI led strategy is a new phenomenon and will take time to mature —yet will become more powerful algorithmic based decision making process and with board’s increased involvement, which introduces new voices and expertise to the debate and puts pressure on management teams and board members alike to find the best answers. Yet this form of AI led strategy development, when done well, is invaluable. It not only leads to clearer strategies but also creates the alignment necessary to make bolder moves with more confidence and to follow through by committing resources to key decisions. AI led decision making for the boards is here….
(AIQRATE advisory & consulting is a bespoke AI advisory and consulting firm and provide strategic advisory services to boards , CXOs, senior leaders to curate , design building blocks of AI strategy , embed AI@scale interventions and create AI powered enterprises . visit : www.aiqrate.ai )