Distinguishing Between Urgency and Importance on the Board of Directors

February 19, 2018

As board members weigh their priorities for 2018, they would do well to consider a famous quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Urgent tasks require immediate attention, whereas important tasks contribute to our long-term mission, values and goals. Board members, like all of us, often conflate the two notions and mistake urgency for importance, running the risk of devoting inadequate attention to important tasks that are not necessarily urgent. In addition to checking routine action items off their to-do list, it is important for board members to allot time to contemplate long-term strategic issues.

A recent Ernst & Young (E&Y) publication titled “Top priorities for US boards in 2018” may assist board members to identify and consider important issues that are not necessarily urgent. Here are E&Y’s top priorities for board members in 2018:

  • Understanding technology’s impact on strategy, business models and cybersecurity
  • Anticipating and planning for geopolitical and regulatory changes
  • Aligning risk management with strategy and operating performance
  • Balancing short- and long-term capital allocation pressures from shareholders
  • Overseeing culture and talent in a time of innovation and transformation
  • Engaging with stakeholders on long-term governance and environmental and social issues
  • Accelerating board effectiveness through composition, structure and assessments

Each of these seven priorities is accompanied by questions for boards to consider and related resources to help educate board members.

For more on important (but not necessarily urgent) issues that boards should be considering, see the Ticker’s report on BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s annual letter to CEOs.

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