- The conference was well organised but it was large, loud and expensive. Sessions started on time and the catering was 'on the money'. However, the wall-to-wall screen that spanned the front of the room was over the top. Yes, delegates could see the presenter, video clips and any slides used during presentations, but at what cost?
- Four specialist workshops were offered, covering the digital director; corporate reporting; planning for intergenerational wealth; and, health and safety. Run twice, delegates had the opportunity to attend two, one of the first day and another on the second morning.
- The two 'best' presentations by some distance were delivered by Dr Kirstin Ferguson and Dr Jane Cherrington. Dr Ferguson, an accomplished company director from Australia spoke on 'safety governance' using findings from her recent doctoral research. She spoke about real issues that directors need to grapple with, director responsibilities and introduced a helpful framework to assist directors determine whether the company is operating a safe workplace. Dr Cherrington spoke about the human side of governance. She asserted that values matter because they provide the moral compass for decision-making; and that companies need to know why they exist (their purpose). Without these both in place and lived in the day-to-day activities of the company, the dominant logic (profit and greed) takes over. I couldn't agree more.
- In contrast, some presenters delivered thinly-veiled sales pitches. Alan Joyce (CEO of Qantas), for example, spoke about his role turning around the airline (with liberal use of the personal pronoun throughout) and the airline's strong promotion of LGBT 'rights' (although this was veiled in a diversity narrative). Leaving the diversity agenda to one side, several people told me later that they would rather have heard the board's perspective. One was so bold to ask why a CEO might be invited to speak about themselves and their 'successes' at a conference for directors. I suggested they ask the organiser.
- Another brickbat. Sponsored baristas served hot fresh espressos during breaks between sessions. However, the queues were very long and, annoyingly, the service was not available during sessions (despite quite a few delegates meeting informally in the trade stand and networking area).
Some three weeks have now passed since the Institute of Directors' Annual Conference was held at the salubrious Langham Hotel in Auckland. I attended this year for the first time, and did so with an open mind having heard mixed reports about previous editions. Some 450 experienced and aspiring directors; media; consultants; and, Institute staff were in attendance over the 1.5 days event.
Some general observations, in no particular order:
Despite the impressive choreography and logistics, and several quite outstanding presentations (and a couple of brickbats), the mood of the conference seemed to be upbeat. However, I came away with mixed feelings. Apart from Drs Ferguson and Cherrington, the conference delivered little in the way of critical analysis or case study examples to help directors do their job better. Similar conferences that I've attended overseas schedule a research stream (peer-reviewed papers discussing emerging trends); plenary panel discussions; and, a half-day of sector- and subject-specific workshops (highly interactive sessions of direct relevance to smaller groups of directors). The ICGN Annual Conference stands out as a great example. I hope the organisers see fit to consider 'bulking up' the conference programme in the future, both to broaden the appeal of the conference and to deliver additional value to the delegates, especially directors of smaller entities. I for one will make attendance a priority if these elements are added. The Institute might also consider scheduling its Annual Meeting as part of the conference as well, to ensure higher levels of participation.
This musing is a little more personal and introspective than most written here. It has been written in the spirit of one of my core values: openness. I hope you allow the indulgence.
In recent days, three people have contacted me because they had noticed that Musings had 'gone quiet'—they had noticed that no new articles had been posted for three weeks. I was blown away, that people had even noticed, let alone reached out. They wanted to know whether everything was OK and if was I still writing.
The short answer is 'yes, I'm fine'. The reason for the three weeks of 'blog silence' (is that what one calls the blog equivalent of 'radio silence'?) is that I've been very busy. Several demanding priorities saw me fully committed elsewhere (I won't bore you with the details, save to say that big task included making sense of some seemingly contradictory information related to a crucial aspect of my thesis). Then, an unexpected delay to one project resulted in me being overcommitted for a few days. As a consequence, something needed to give, so I temporarily stopped writing articles for Musings. That's all.
The craziness of the past three weeks has passed, meaning normal transmission can resume. Top priorities in the short term are to tidy up the remaining loose ends before resubmitting my doctoral thesis; respond to several speaking and advisory enquiries; travel domestically and internationally to fulfil client and conference commitments; and, to write some new Musings articles (first up, a summary piece on the recent Institute of Directors Annual Conference). I'm looking forward to it.
Are you based in or near London or Paris? Do you want to learn more about board effectiveness, corporate governance and how boards can exert influence from and beyond the boardroom? If so, please read on.
In a few weeks I will be visiting London (24–31 May) and Paris (1–4 June) to speak with directors and trust board members about board practices, board effectiveness and emerging trends in corporate governance; share the results of my latest research; attend meetings; and, to present a paper at the EURAM conference.
If you have a question (perhaps along the lines of these ones below) or a request and would like to take advantage of my proximity, please get in touch. I'd be delighted to hear from you and to schedule a meeting.
If you've answered 'yes' to any of these questions...you know what to do. I am at your service.
As a devotee of life-long learning and a student of history, I keep a weather eye out for ideas and examples to share with boards and directors, to help them lead more effectively, from the boardroom. Amongst the news feeds and magazines that cross my desk, this magazine often contains helpful articles. This recent item, on effective leadership, was particularly interesting. The author offers seven 'keys' to effective leadership, as follows (I've taken the liberty of attaching a comment to each—a consideration for boards and directors):
I've been pondering this question for quite a few years now, since reading a seemingly endless stream of articles about the global financial crisis of 2007–2009 published in the popular press and academic literature. Curiously, many authors identified the board as a source of failure (of corporate governance), yet few if any have offered positive contributions to put corporate governance back on the tracks. This apparent void was one of the motivations of my doctoral research quest.
However, from time to time, articles do stand out, because the authors speak out. Their comments may not be popular, but take a stand they do. Recently, the ICSA recognised one such author, Ruth Keating, who openly asked the question in a recent essay competition. Two sentences towards the end of her well structured and very readable essay say it all:
“Corporate governance can do better, and with significant investment, capital and jobs on the line, it must. Good governance requires a new approach, because governance has become a formality to be satisfied rather than something which can be hugely valuable."
My hope is that, by openly asking the question (as Ms Keating has) others might join the debate. One outcome could be a new understanding of corporate governance and a genuine commitment by the board to add value. Who knows where this might lead, perhaps even to a new normal, whereby boards expect to exert influence from and beyond the boardroom. If that is achieved, a new dawn might not be too far away.
What is it with the equinox? In the six days that have passed since the equinox announced the changing of the seasons, my phone and email box have been running hot. A stream of enquiries and requests from business leaders in Australasia, the UK, Western Europe, South-east Asia and the Middle East have arrived. I have been asked to speak at conferences and major events, provide guidance to boards and management groups, discuss the findings from latest research, facilitate strategy workshops, and to lead director development workshops. That some many people have decided to reach out is truly an honour. Thank you.
Several visits to major cities around the world have now been scheduled to fulfil commitments, as follows:
If you have an interest in corporate governance, strategic management or a related topic and want to take advantage of my proximity(*), please contact me. I would be delighted to hear from you to understand your situation and to arrange to meet you in person or to schedule an event.
(*) If you would like to schedule a meeting or an event but the venues and dates listed do not fit your timetable, please reach out anyway, so that we can discuss an alternate arrangement that does suit your requirements.
One of the great joys of being an independent advisor is the opportunity to spend time with people from a wide range of backgrounds; business and social experiences; walks of life; and, in my case, countries and cultures. The depth and breadth of humanity never ceases to amaze me. Paradoxically, a common thread runs amongst the diversity: people who are keen to improve organisational effectiveness and make a difference spend lots of time asking questions, lots of questions.
When questions asked from the floor after a public talk; as part of a formal advisory engagement; or, during a professional development workshop, a confidential discussion with a director or an informal chat, something mysterious happens. Both parties learn! That's because no one has all the answers. Often the person asking the question has the answer (but may not realise it) or part of the answer at least (and it needs to be integrated with some information from elsewhere). This is how we learn.
If you would like to pose a question, about any aspect of corporate governance, strategic management or a related topic, please use the comment link here or, if you prefer, send an email. I'd be delighted to respond. Let's learn together.
About 25 years ago, I remember seeing, for first time, a rather compelling video on competitive strategy. Michael E Porter, a Harvard professor, spoke about competitive strategy and sustainable competitive advantage. He said that competitive advantage (and, therefore, business success) was largely a matter of deciding whether to pursue a cost (price) or differentiation strategy. More recently, others have suggested that every product/service/company needs to have a unique selling proposition (USP) or a point of difference.
Fast forward to 2016. Is this pathway still viable? In a crowded world, new entrants come and go, all the time. Barriers to entry for new products and services are getting lower. In this environment, how realistic is it to think that any USP might actually be unique, let alone sustainably so? Also, a product that is different or cheaper is of little consequence if no one buys it.
Difference is important, but not in the way most people think (unique features &c.). Difference works only until someone copies you. Then you are the same. Your difference, your USP, is no longer unique. Further, at a population level, product or service success doesn't depend on price or feature set. Most customers don't care what products or services do. They do care about the what difference it will make to them.
This challenge is arguably even more important at a company level (i.e., corporate strategy). So, next time your board and management team convenes a strategic thinking workshop, as part of a strategy development process, change the playing field. Ask you facilitator to write these two questions on the whiteboard—and to keep coming back to them throughout the session.
You might be surprised at the result.
Earlier this year, Lloyd Russell of TCB Solutions and Deb Coren of AMPLIFI Governance contacted me to discuss an event they were planning in their home town of Brisbane, Australia. They wanted me to deliver some talks and share some insights on the evolution of governance—with a specific focus on family-owned businesses. After learning more about their plans I was thrilled to accept the invitation. With that, planning got underway.
Two events have now been scheduled on Thu 19 May, one in the morning and the other in the evening.
If you are a family or private business owner; or an independent director, advisor or partner, then this event may be of interest. Click on the image for more information and to register (a new browser page will open).
One Saturday morning, about fifteen years ago, my elderly father-in-law and I sat in the morning sun, sharing a few stories over a cup of tea. He was asking about my then burgeoning advisory work and family life. I was interested in hearing him reflect on his experiences in business, particularly his career-long journey with the same employer—from a junior staff member to, eventually, chief executive.
As he spoke, Bill reminded me that he only ever had one employer, and that although he had been blessed to contribute at many levels he had only ever completed one job interview, that being when he first got a job. He went on to talk about the power of team over individual, and of loyalty to both your employer and your own principles. Much has changed since he retired in 1984, not the least of which has been the erosion of the values that served as Bill's North Star throughout his career.
Today, most things are negotiable. For many, the motivation has changed, from providing service (to the employer) to self-service. Never has this been more apparent in the everyday behaviours of staff, particularly the younger generation. If we don't get want we want, or if we get a better offer elsewhere, we act. That staff and customers are more interested in self(ie) has huge implications for productivity and value creation in the longer-term. While team productivity is a matter for the chief executive, value creation is the responsibility of the board on behalf of the shareholder. How is your board wrestling with this? Does your board regularly allocate time to understand the changing environment, consider strategic options and make strategic decisions? Companies that expect to thrive in the future need to address the emergent challenge of 'self(ie)'. The best place to start the discussion is in the boardroom.
Thoughts on corporate governance and strategic management, our place in the world and other things that catch my attention.