How a CSO Can Manage the Board: A Case Example

Here is the story of the sustainability director of a major North American electric utility company who single-handedly demonstrated the benefits of “taking initiative” involving the CEO and the board…

At the request of the CEO of a major North American utility, I led a discussion with the full board of directors about “sustainability and the future.” Next, I participated in a half-day scenario planning exercise with the full board and executive team.

The purpose of the exercise was to determine how the company would respond to future disruption in its industry while meeting increasing stakeholder demands. The CEO and board recognized that an “incremental improvement” mindset cannot achieve either outcome.

So, how did the CSO make this happen?

First, the CSO engaged a C-suite member to support his development of a “scenario planning” exercise. The CSO worked with functional experts from across the company to create two relevant scenarios – essentially, alternative future stories for their industry sector and competitive space.

Next, the CSO designed a powerful one-day interactive workshop exploring how to navigate those scenarios. The sponsor considered the pilot “successful” and urged the CEO to run the workshop with the full leadership team. Based on the success of this second event, the CEO asked the board to carve out a morning at a future meeting to do the same.

In the months since that meeting, the board increasingly has taken leadership of the sustainability agenda. The CSO was moved to the strategic planning team; and the CEO changed the corporate planning approach from the traditional “one-shot” annual event into a series of 12 monthly sessions over the year.