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Salient Thoughts On The Boardroom

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

The Board has been likened to an Orchestra.

The conductor is the Chair, the lead violinist the CEO, the orchestra manager the Co. Sec, the music score the strategy and the rest of the players the other board members. The instruments represent the skills, experience and capabilities of the board.

When the board/orchestra are out of tune with each other then there’s a hell of a noise (literally!) but when they are in harmony together it’s pure music and wonderfully satisfying for all involved.

We’ve all seen how discordant and disruptive board behaviour can be used to divert important focus away from the agenda and achieve nothing positive. We’ve also all seen the video of the Handforth Parish Council meeting chaos, right?

High performance boards are creators of value; being enablers of competitive and organisational advantage.

A board evaluation will assist with ensuring that there is the right composition of members. A skills assessment could firstly identify gaps in knowledge and experience. Secondly, dab in a bit of humility and thirdly, create a program of continuous learning and development for the Board members. Obviously recruiting-in the expertise solves any immediate problems and the appointment of advisors and Non-Executive Directors (NED’s) adds great value.

With this, engagement and challenge within the Board will increase but no single appointment with specific expertise is sufficient to provide collective competency, so the Learning and Development program is key, along with the metrics and measurements to assess its effectiveness.

Boards are faced with ever increasing challenges and competing priorities in this volatile and disrupted world. The art of providing risk oversight, protecting stakeholder value, and becoming carbon neutral is a tricky mix. Add to those issues such as diversity, gender equality and inclusion and business risk continuity plans topped off by a move from voluntary to increased regulatory reporting, it’s an increasing complexity. How many Boards feel 100% competent with having the knowledge and experience to juggle all the competing priorities?

Change is inevitable during these difficult Covid-19 times and Boards need to re-think their way forward. What’s a priority for the next board agenda and are any of the following items on it?

  • Covid-19 recovery?

  • Identifying any increased risks to the business?

  • Evaluation of the board?

  • Appointment of a new NED to fill any skills/experience gap?

  • Increased focus on cashflow and profit recovery?

  • ESG in the business?

  • Employee health and welfare?

The Board Chair is a notoriously difficult role, whether separate from the Chief Executive role or combined. The governance debate continues as to whether the same person should hold both roles or not.

How do you create the right environment for healthy and robust challenge in the boardroom?  Constructive conflict and critical friends are required, so board members need to feel that they have the mandate and support to start the awkward conversations and challenge within a safe environment. 

Increasing board diversity with directors from more varied and unusual backgrounds or who lack experience but show potential, requires a strong and courageous Chair. However, this is necessary if the board is to grow and evolve as it provides a fledgling director on a succession plan with the platform to spread their wings and take flight. It’s healthy to ask questions and recognise one’s own knowledge gaps so should be welcomed in the boardroom. 

Environmental, Social and Governance issues (ESG) should be an integrated strategy throughout the organisation and discussed at board level.  The board, operations, the finance team & particularly procurement activities can all be central to driving sustainability initiatives.  

Creating an action plan, measurable metrics and milestones are key to supporting a long term vision and organisational purpose which includes looking at the organisation through a sustainability lens.

The wider stakeholder environment needs organisations & individuals to step up & protect it & the people. We all operate therein therefore ethical governance is a collective responsibility.  Let’s hope that ESG is on all board agendas and sustainability conversations have started.

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