Published in, Agenda- A Financial Times Service
By, Stuart R. Levine


The failure of reinforces the need for directors to be fully engaged with senior management on how well the company is implementing key strategies and communicating with all stakeholders, writes Stuart R. Levine, a director at Broadridge Financial Solutions and founder of management consultancy Stuart Levine & Associates.


Stuart R. Levine is a director at Broadridge Financial Solutions and the founder of Stuart Levine & Associates, a management consultancy.

The U.S. is gripped once again in an apparent implementation breakdown by the federal government. The population’s inability to enroll in the new healthcare portal,, has created unfulfilled expectations, resulting in a lack of confidence in the current White House administration and President Barack Obama’s ability to lead and advocate for this program.

This is not meant to be an exercise in finger pointing at the national government, but rather as a time of reflection for those privileged to serve on corporate boards. As business continues to be challenged to invest in technology and more deeply connect with customers, employees and shareholders, board members need an even greater focus on how well their governance processes are helping or hurting key strategies.

Directors must ask if they can appropriately monitor the execution of strategy, and have a line of vision on how decisions are being made and results achieved. The administration delegated the leadership of five different times to several lower level managers with no administrative clout or experience. Henry Chao, the last individual appointed to drive the initiative, had no formal background in software engineering and was incapable of making day-to-day decisions to achieve strategic goals. Experts identified more than 600 hardware and software defects in prior to the launch, according to The New York Times. Experienced technology professionals and management consulting experts warned the White House in late March of 2013 that the website was trying to do too much and would never work, the Washington Post reports.

When the website launch failed, White House spokesman Eric Schultz communicated to the American people that “nobody anticipated the size and scope of the problems we experienced once the site launched.” President Obama, who ultimately held responsibility for the project, went full steam ahead with the Oct. 1 launch, even though he knew the website was flawed. The administration covered up flaws at multiple levels, The New York Times reported.  These deficiencies include the site’s inability to effectively handle more than 500 users at a time; its lack of a back-up system; and the data system’s failure to house all inputted website data.

It is our responsibility as directors to provide oversight on strategy and understand how that strategy will unlock shareholder value. One way is to navigate the organization’s website on a regular basis and see how people are interacting with it. Boards can also step up their due diligence by asking social media-related questions. All directors should begin this review and view the experience in the eyes of their consumers – or, for that matter – the future talent of the organization. Confidence is earned every day through these interactions.

When visiting the organization’s website, directors should ask the following questions: Is the information presented in a user friendly manner and is the navigation user friendly? Does the website increase confidence in the organization’s leadership? Directors have an opportunity to visit these portals and get firsthand knowledge of employees, shareholders and customers.

In addition, it is important for directors to listen to the quarterly analyst call or go to the company’s website. These functions provide another window into questions that shareholders and analysts are asking about the company. This material can also be useful when directors discuss the company’s social media approach at the next board meeting. Directors should want to know whether there is a communication initiative that ensures engagement with all shareholders, and how the company’s shareholder support compares to that of its peers.

As the next few weeks unfold, watch the way the federal government responds to poor execution and implementation of a hugely important strategic initiative. Consider the impact this will have on the president and his leadership legacy.  For directors, there are consequences for a lack of oversight, leading to an erosion of shareholder confidence.  In the for profit sector, let’s learn from those misfires, and recognize the obligation all directors have to the integrity of the relationships they hold with shareholders, employees and customers.