Is the CEO Disruptive Enough? Nokia chairman offers advice on guiding management to stay on top of innovation.

Author:Tahmincioglu, Eve

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, Nokia chairman Risto Siilasmaa, admits he didn't see it as a game changer and trusted management at the telecommunications firm that the device would only be a cult-fan favorite.

Siilasmaa, who is credited with helping turn Nokia around since then, learned his lesson and under his direction the focus became, and still is, "our technology, our products, our people, our customers and our competition, as well as our competitiveness now and in the future."

The following is a Q&A with Siilasmaa --the former interim Nokia CEO, and author of the just-released Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change. He shares what he learned and how boards can ensure their CEOs are staying on top of innovation.

Nokia has been through dramatic changes in the past few years, teetering on bankruptcy as technological changes left the company behind. Many see your leadership on the board as "a big reason Nokia even has a future," as the global management consultant McKinsey & Company said in article about you and the company in 2016. How does a board even begin to put its arms around the continuous "colossal change?"

The big challenge for any board is to learn what's really going on in the company and the industry. Rather than restricting yourself to the granular level of "What are the company's problems?," try to go one level higher to the way the company identifies and responds to symptoms that affect the company's health and wellbeing. If your company's culture allows it, these three questions provide a structured way to think about things:

Are we discussing the right things? This is a major challenge for any team. Talking about the company's balance sheet, corporate social responsibility, compensation structure, cybersecurity preparedness and so on is important but, to be honest, has very little long-term strategic significance. The topics that really matter are those that help the board understand the competitive status of the company: the future environment for target customers, the company's sources of competitiveness, how its core technologies and products will compare with the competition's going forward, and other subjects that explain the company's present performance and dictate how the company might perform in the future.

Are we discussing the right topics the right way? Even if you have the right agenda and are dedicating a thoughtful amount of time to the factors that will decide the company's success or failure, if you're not able to have deep and candid discussions, then the time spent will not produce useful results. Questions must be encouraged and welcomed, not just on a superficial level but as far down as it takes to divulge a realistic response.

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