Setting the Tone from the Top: How director conversations shape culture

by Melinda Muth and Bob Selden

Setting the Tone from the Top

In Setting the Tone from the Top, Melinda Muth and Bob Selden examine how director conversations shape organisational culture.

They show how using appropriate words and language can tap the collective knowledge of the board to improve working relationships and collective decision making, and ultimately positively impact the behaviour of management.

The subject of company culture has become an important agenda item for many boards. The traditional view that if ‘directors and the company acted in the interests of shareholders, that would be enough’, has shifted. The evolution of attitudes in the community about the conduct of companies and their boards has heightened expectations of the role directors play in shaping culture.

With this current climate in mind, Melinda Muth and Bob Selden provide board members with techniques, tips and strategies for conversing effectively with each other, with executives and stakeholders, to ensure all views on key topics such as conduct, risk and strategy, are canvassed, heard and evaluated.

Part 1 covers the setting and shaping of culture. How it is originally formed? What impact do directors have on the culture of the organisation? What are the ‘levers’ the board can use to influence the CEO and senior management in developing an appropriate culture? And particularly, what part does language, both verbal and written, play in setting the tone from the top?

This leads to a discussion on conversation in Part 2. This is the key process through which directors harness the knowledge of the board and influence senior management. Whilst Part 1 is principally about why directors should be concerned with culture, Part 2 examines how directors play a part in setting the tone at the top, by understanding the impact their words and language have on tone through their conversations in the boardroom and with key stakeholders.

Part 3 introduces specific strategies, techniques and tactics for directors. These techniques and tactics can be used in day-to-day conversations that model the behaviour directors expect others to follow.

The book concludes with Part 4 showing how directors can apply the conversational processes covered in Parts 2 and 3, to specific, challenging boardroom conversations: for example, giving critical feedback to the CEO, handling a difficult media conversation, managing difficult conversations with fellow directors, and so on.

"What we say and how we say it has never been more important in this era of ‘fake news’. Muth and Selden cut through the clutter to provide road-tested and sage advice for board members and senior executives alike on how to communicate more effectively when the chips are down.

Sydney Finkelstein
Professor for Strategy and Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College

Melinda Muth FAICD Photo
Melinda Muth FAICD
Author ,

Melinda Muth FAICD is an educator and consultant who specialises in personal and team effectiveness, principally with senior executives and leadership teams. She is a facilitator and guest speaker in a variety of executive education programs in Australia and has worked in Asia and the USA. She is a Director of the Institute of Food and Grocery Management, a Facilitator, Faculty Adviser and Fellow of AICD as well as a member of the adjunct faculty at UNSW.

Bob Selden Photo
Bob Selden
Author ,

Bob Selden is Managing Director of The National Learning Institute and the author of What To Do When You Become The Boss, a best-selling book (currently 65,000 copies sold and published in four languages) for newly promoted managers. The book reflects Bob’s experience over many years as a line manager and organisational development consultant. Bob’s coached senior executives at one of the world’s premier business schools—the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne Switzerland and all level of managers at the Australian Graduate School of Management, Sydney, Australia.

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Book details
  • Authors: Melinda Muth and Bob Selden
  • Print ISBN: 9781876604578
  • epub ISBN: 9781876604585
  • Publisher: Australian Institute of Company Directors

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