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McKinsey: Boards Consider Compliance a Pain

Corporate directors consider compliance issues a pain and want to spend more time developing long-term strategies and managing talent, according to a new survey by McKinsey Quarterly.
The findings are hardly a surprise considering what boards have been through over the past six years with the Sarbanes-Oxley. Yet, suggestions that they are want to be more in tune with where their companies should be going and they want to monitor and nurture top talent means they are becoming more positively engaged with their duties.

In its March 2008 survey, McKinsey reached 586 corporate directors. Slightly more than half were C-level executives and 161 came from public firms and 378 from private ones with the rest from non-profits or government agencies.

Fifty-three percent believed more time was needed to manage talent percent while 50 percent wanted more time developing long-term strategy. Forty-one percent wanted to spend less time measuring key initiatives against strategy and 34 percent wanted to not be as involved in tracking performance. Developing short-term strategy was also considered a time-waster with 49 percent wanting to spend less time on it.

On governance and compliance issues, 41 percent of the directors wanted to spend more time making sure that they were communicating clearly with investors while only 24 percent wanted more time to spend complying with laws and regulations. Time spent compensating executives got fairly consistent scores among more, average and less time spent.

Yet directors said they lack knowledge, expertise and don't interact enough with management. Only 33 percent reported that their boards have "significant" expertise in talent management, for example.

Another trend: half of those respondents on "highly influential" boards say they have good access to executives other than the most senior ones. Directors on "less influential" boards had less access.

Bottom line: After a lot of Sarbanes-Oxley soul-searching, boards seem to slowly be becoming more independent and less rubber-stamps for top corporate management. They seem to be seeing their loyalties more with shareholders with any particular CEO. An added plus: they seem to be more concerned with the long, rather than short, term. This healthy sign could help break the cycle of caring only about next quarter's numbers.