Project Management Institute

Straight Talk with Sunil Episode 10 Transcript - Part 2


  • Sunil Prashara, PMI President & CEO
  • Beth Partleton, Board Chair 2011
  • Randy Black, Board Chair 2018
  • Tony Appleby, Board Chair 2019

SUNIL PRASHARA: HI everyone, Sunil Prashara here and welcome to another “Straight Talk with Sunil.” And boy do I have a surprise for you today. I am joined by three wonderful leaders who have been on the Board of PMI and indeed are on the Board of PMI and in fact, one is a serving Chair and the other two have been Chairs of this wonderful Board of Directors.

So I am joined today by Beth Partleton, who was on the Board of Directors between 2008 and 2013, and then in 2010 she was Vice Chair. And then in 2011, she became a Chairperson. And I am also joined by Tony Appleby, who is the current Chair for this year. And the last year’s Chair, the year that I joined PMI, it was Randy Black and he is with us as well today.

So you’ve got the Board of Directors and the you’ve got the Chair. Is there a big difference between the role that the Board plays and that the Chair plays?

TONY: Actually, not very much. So the Chair is one of many, the Board are all equal directors. The Chair’s responsibility is to act as the voice of the Board with the leadership of the Institute.

SUNIL: And Beth, have you seen this has been a consistent way of working since you were at the Board in 2008?

BETH: Yes. I think the way Tony described it is exactly what I have seen in the past. I will add that the one piece of being Chair that I think is a little different from the other 12 now we have on the board, we were 15 when I first started, is that the Chair has to be able to listen to all the board members and be sure all the board members are contributing.

When you have some serious discussions and a couple people aren’t speaking it is up to the chair to be sure to really pull out all the opinions. And perhaps it’s one of those roles that is so perfectly a servant leader is that you really have to serve the rest of the board to try to get all the (opinions?) out in the open so we can make our best decisions.

SUNIL: Yes. I mean, I can be witness to that myself because I have seen that the Board doesn’t hold back. It’s very good. Everyone is pretty confident and they do get the opportunity to speak their mind. And sometimes the debates are quite hearty because people have lots of different perspectives because they come from different backgrounds and different countries and different cultures and they all play together.

And I guess one of the roles, and I’m turning to you, Randy, managing all of the different personalities and the people that come from different parts of the world or different industry groups or different perspectives, different levels of experience, that is quite a big challenge. How do you maintain order in that kind of environment?

RANDY: I don’t think that the Chair really maintains order. I think they act as a facilitator to make sure that those various viewpoints are brought forward and then tries to draw conclusions. So a conversation can go round and round and round, at some point in time, you’ve got to be able to draw a conclusion, to take what you are hearing, interpret it, bring it back.. or direct it back to the Board and validate is this what we’re saying as a Board? Is this our concern, is this our question?

As Beth noted – and Tony noted – we are one amongst many. And the difficult part I think is making sure that you are not inserting your own influence into the decision making. That you try to maintain neutrality even though you do have a point of view, you do have a perspective. You are a facilitator. I think that’s a big element of the role of being the Chair of the Board.

SUNIL: And that’s interesting. I’ll turn to Tony then. Because you’re right, you do have a point of view, you have your own point of view, but then at the same time you don’t want to come across or make your point of view THE most important point of view because there are 12 or 15 other points of view there as well. But at the same time, you don’t want your point of view to be ignored either.

So that is quite a fine balance. How do you manage that? Because you don’t want to be seen as the guy that’s actually forcing your perspective all the time but at the same time you might be going in a direction that you might not necessarily agree with.

TONY: So you are absolutely right, Sunil. I generally tend to hold back on my opinion so as not to dissuade the advent of how the conversation proceeds. But it is important to have diverse points of view. If there are two directors with the same perspective, one of them is unnecessary, really. So we want to have rich and robust dialogues in the room and sometimes I won’t necessarily put forward my opinion, I’ll put forward something that’s more along the lines of devil’s advocate just to make sure that we are thinking things through.

BETH: Discussions do get quite passionate and it’s up to the Chair, I think Randy used the word – facilitator is really key. You have to know when to ask one of them to, you know, we have your point, why don’t you just wait and let’s hear from a few other people. We tend to keep a little bit of a list of who is going to speak next and make sure everyone has a chance to speak. And sometimes you just have to ask people or tell them that their time is up and we’ll come back to you.

SUNIL: And I think of course now with Covid-19, with the impact of that, with the impact on the economy, it is not a time for sacred cows anyway. It’s a great opportunity for us within PMI to take a look at everything that we do and really say.. Do that questioning, ask that question, why are we doing it this way? Because every organization everywhere is having to reinvent itself, re-think itself through, and we are doing the same.

And one of the great things about being the CEO of PMI and having such an incredible Board that is willing to challenge conventional thinking is that we do try new things. And we get tremendous support from the Board to do that. And a lot of the way we have been able to handle the first six months of 2020 has been because we’ve kept the Board up to date with what is happening. And they are very, very aware of the challenges that the staff are under as a consequence of this and very supportive of me and some of the work that ELT have done to make sure that everybody stays safe and that we can keep the organization, the association, sustainable for the future.

So just that piece of work alone shows that it can be a very, very cohesive relationship between the board, the chair and the staff as well.

TONY: I absolutely agree. And if I can just jump in on that. You touch on the most important job of any director is insuring the long-term viability of the organization for which that director serves. So our focus is always on is this good for our profession, is this good for the institute, is this good for us in the future? That is the bottom line.

BETH: So the board really has to mature as the organization does. And as was mentioned before, we are working on getting director training for all the directors. We can also do other individual development for Board members as needed, especially in financial areas. If you are not as familiar with financial statements we can add to individual board development. And also our nominating process for the Board is maturing and we have a very well defined Board profile that people can look at and see how well they feel they measure up to that and hopefully will be willing to consider running for the Board in the future.

And the one thing that Randy was saying about meetings, I think that has been a huge learning this year is that we have had productive Board meetings virtually and not all of them face-to-face. Part of the drawbacks or part of the barriers to people being able to serve on the Board is the time commitment. And it is very difficult to balance that with work life and family life.

If we are able to in the future have some face-to-face meetings and some virtual meetings and can reduce the number of days per year that you have to spend to be on the Board, I am hoping that will open it up to a greater group of people who can apply to go through the nominating process, which I think will also help us on some diversity of gender, age diversity, geographic diversity. I think when we can operate a little more virtually it’s going to be a good thing all the way around.

SUNIL: I feel really privileged because I have a Board of Directors where each and every person on that Board of Directors could be a Chair, each and every one. And each and every one brings an incredible amount of insight and knowledge and expertise, which really makes my role. On one side of it, it’s tough to be able to cut from and prioritize on the things that matter because everybody has a very strong point of view, but it’s also fantastic insight.

You heard it there from Beth, from Tony, from Randy, and that’s just three out of the 12 and any one of them could be a Chair at any point in time and really drive and help coordinate a very talented team to make a difference for PMI, the association, the members, the staff and everybody. So it is a real privilege to be working with such a talented bunch of leaders.

Then at the same time, there are a number of challenges that we face regardless of whether there’s Covid or not. And you heard it there, whether it’s operations, whether it’s people, whether we’re double clicking on a specific function, like customer services, or we’re talking about large scale transformation as in 4.0 and what the future of PMI is going to look like in two, three, four year’s time. The spectrum of dialogue can go from the minutia all the way to the most strategic level and still be exciting, still be interesting.

So I would like to first of all thank you for your support in helping me earn the spurs to lead the organization over the last 18 months – I’m really enjoying it; I’m loving it – and then for your leadership at the different times that I have been engaged with you all. And right now with Tony at the helm, in very difficult times it’s great to have someone with his caliber to bounce ideas off.

So I’d like to thank you all for that and I’d like to thank you all for taking the time to have quite a candid discussion with me. Any last words, Tony, from you?

TONY: Oh no. I have to admit though, I love these chats. And watching them has always been a highlight of my month. I take a weekend and I aggregate them together and I sit down in the backyard and listen to them. So I’m thrilled to be a part of this, as I’m sure Randy and Beth are, and thank you for having us.