Take Board Member 'ROI' to Work With You, and Leave Him Confused

Nice Ideas Don't Often Translate Into Reality

By Published on .

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin
At first, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of hosting one of my company's board members for a day at work. Ralston Osborne Insistent, or "ROI" for short, chairs the finance committee, after having spent a career at the now-defunct investment firm Leverage, Insistent & Echo LLC. He'd sent an e-mail last year asking me to explain a number (four) buried in one of our spreadsheets, and I'd replied that it was one more than three and 20% less than five. We got dashboards on our computers about a month later, and I've since heard that he tries to conduct committee meetings without using any words, only math. Like I said, the guy is a big zero, but there was no avoiding it, so here are tidbits from my day showing ROI what it's like to be a CMO:

9:15 a.m. Starbucks: ROI peppers me with scathing insights about the inefficiencies of waiting in line, pouring your own cream and sugar, and carrying a cup. I shrug, and he lets me pay for his coffee.

9:30 a.m. My office: I review our day's agenda and ROI waits until I'm done before asking how many meetings are scheduled at my request. I answer "maybe one out of 10." He says that's inefficient. I agree. We look at the marketing dashboard on my computer. There's an awkward silence. I shrug again.

10:00 a.m. Conference room: We meet with HR about work issues with two of my younger staffers, both of whom want more responsibility. "But they can't function for more than a minute without a tweet or IM chat," I say, and then I get a lecture about the magic of collaboration. ROI mumbles about innovation and I commit to inviting the staffers to more meetings.

10:50 a.m. Hallway: I show my BlackBerry to ROI (which has been buzzing incessantly in my pocket all morning): 27 texts, 53 e-mails, 89 RSS updates. Everyone on Facebook has something important to say.

11:00 a.m. My office: An IT person and her tech consultant tell us about firewalls, data repositories, and why we can't implement our strategic plan. ROI gives a long soliloquy about content and conversation and customer knowledge. I push for resolution of our issues and she says we're on the calendar for the fall (the campaign starts in a week). She shrugs.

11:30 a.m. My office: We speed-reply through my e-mails. ROI wants to stop and discuss strategy, but I'm in a yes/no frenzy. I get 21 new e-mails before I'm done with the old ones. ROI doesn't understand why I can't delegate the responses to the team. I shrug and explain that it's the team sending the e-mails to me.

12:00 p.m. Libido, a restaurant: A strategy consultancy wanted to take us to lunch so we sit in front of beautiful salads and talk about an iPad app and geolocating customers on their smartphones. ROI is in heaven because they'd plug into his dashboard. I point out that we sell most of our stuff in grocery stores. Everyone shrugs. My pants pocket buzzes like a beehive.

1:30 p.m. Our ad agency: I set up a brainstorming session so ROI engages with our branding guys on dimensionalizing our brand engagement. I have to excuse myself after the first five minutes to talk to the planners about the shortfalls in our budget. Then the office calls with about a dozen fires to put out. I get back to the meeting just as it ends. ROI says he's brimming with ideas for the brand.

3:00 p.m. My office: We have a series of short meetings in no particular order: A large retail account has serious accounting issues with us; our new slogan translates into "weak turds" in some languages; our spokesceleb was arrested the night prior at a fetish nightclub; customers have started a Facebook page demanding that we stop sourcing plastic in Corruptistan; and our main competitor just introduced a new product that makes ours look about as current as 1953. ROI doesn't say much. My pocket buzzes.

4:00 p.m. Starbucks: I stand in line and get ROI his coffee, and we wedge ourselves into a little table so he can tell me about his ideas for the brand. After he repeats what he heard at the agency (or read in a magazine on the plane last night), I ask him what he learned during his day at work with me. He shrugs. "You need to be more strategic and have better metrics for your efforts," he says, and adds that he knows a consultant who could add the necessary tools to our marketing dashboard. Then ROI excuses himself and gets into the limo waiting for him at the curb.

What did I learn on Take Our Board Members to Work Day? It's a nice idea but our day revealed that nice ideas don't often translate into reality. I didn't change ROI's understanding of my job; it's as if he and I live on two different planets. We certainly don't share the same language, though there's one thing on which we agree when it comes to the many disconnects.

We both shrug.

Jonathan Salem Baskin is a global brand strategist, author and speaker. Read his blog at dimbulb.net and follow him on Twitter: @jonathansalem.
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