I'm seated at Heathrow, homebound after a busy week attending the ICSA: The Governance Institute annual conference in London, and a bevy of other commitments. The following comments reflect on two busy days spent at the ICSA conference. The intention is not to provide comprehensive reportage, but rather to bring forward notable points (from my perspective anyway!). As always, please feel free to get in touch if you have a question or would like more information.
Overall, the conference provided a valuable forum for company directors, secretaries and others who support the work of boards to learn, compare notes and meet others in similar situations.
Please contact me if would like more information.
This is a brief note to advise that I will be in London next week, to speak at the ICSA Annual Conference. The conference is being held at ExCeL, London, over two days (4–5 July). Programme details are available here.
I'll be speaking on the first day of the conference, at 12noon. My topic is strategy, from the board's perspective. Here's the session summary from the programme:
Good strategy vs bad strategy
Sound interesting? Come along, I look forward to meeting you.
Note: I'll be in London Monday 3rd to Thursday 6th inclusive, with some free time both during the conference, and immediately before and after. Please get in touch if you'd like to meet up (day or night) to ask a question; discuss an aspect of corporate governance or strategy; learn more about my research on boards and business performance; or, simply have a chat over a coffee or a drink. I'd be delighted to hear from you.
Sunday 5 March is less than two weeks away. For many it is just another day. However, it is significant for me because it signals the onset of an eight week stretch of advisory, speaking, board evaluation and confidential briefing commitments in several countries. Consequently, I will temporarily embrace a nomadic lifestyle: hotel rooms, flights and airline lounges will dominate my world. Here's the schedule as it stands today:
While the schedule will be demanding, the cause is compelling: to speak into literally hundreds of situations in which boards and directors have sought guidance to improve their practices and performance will be both a great honour. That they have reached out to me is deeply humbling. I shall do my best to make a difference.
Entrepreneurs—that group of individuals who put their resources and, often, their reputation on the line, in pursuit of a big dream—are interesting people. Some are brash and larger than life; others are quieter and more considered. Despite variations in style and personality, one common thread that binds entrepreneurs is the importance of leveraging (often limited) resources to best advantage to maximise the chance of seeing their dream realised. One important and oft-overlooked resource is the board of directors. Some of the questions I've heard entrepreneurs ask include:
I will be in Brisbane Australia on Tue 7 February 2017 to help entrepreneurs and directors of entrepreneurial businesses explore these questions. The Brisbane branch of Entrepreneurs' Organisation, a global network of more than 10,000 business owners in 42 countries, has invited me to deliver a talk and to host a workshop for members. The title of the two sessions are as follows:
The 33rd Governance Institute of Australia national conference was held in Sydney recently. Previously, the Governance Institute (GIA) was known as Chartered Secretaries Australia, an outpost of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA). The name change, implemented several years ago, implies that the body is moving beyond serving the company secretary as its core constituency.
I attended to observe; meet others; serve as a panelist (topic: The pursuit of productivity, see picture); debate topical challenges for boards; and, learn more about the practice of corporate governance, especially the GIA's role in encouraging boards in their value-creation mandate. As this was my first GIA conference, some post-conference reflections are appropriate:
In sum, the conference revealed some interesting insights (see summaries in other blog entries below) and attendance was well worthwhile. However, I couldn't help but wonder whether the organisers missed an opportunity—to engage the group that actually carries ultimate responsibility for company performance; company directors. If the GIA is to make further progress towards its stated purpose, it is vital that company directors are active participants in the discourse.
This is the third update of several to summarise observations from the 33rd Governance Institute of Australia National Conference being held in Sydney this week. Here are the links to the first and second updates. (The final update, covering the second day, will be published tomorrow.)
This update includes observations from the late afternoon session.
The session was dominated by a panel discussion on the topic of culture and why it matters. John Price and Judith Fox, both of whom had addressed the conference earlier were joined by Peter WIlson (Chairman of the Australian Human Resources Institute) to discuss this important topic.
Fox and Price quickly established the strong correlation between positive organisational culture and company performance, although they did so through the 'back door': asserting the poor culture often leads to erosion of value. While this assertion is intuitively accurate, the next statement caught many in the audience off guard. The statement was, and I quote, "Good governance frameworks lead to good culture". Really? I looked forward to hearing how this might be. Sadly, the claim was not substantiated—the audience was left hanging. I was hoping for something more substantive than a straightforward claim. Fortunately, Wilson provided it—his comments caught the audience's attention.
Wilson tackled several myths of culture head on, reminding the audience that culture and performance are different; that a good culture is not a reliable predictor of high company performance (although the opposite is more reliably true as Fox and Price made clear); and, that culture can actually be measured, despite assertions to the contrary. Wilson backed up each of these claims with stories and/or evidence, all of which had strong practical undertones. Most notably, Wilson called out the importance of the board to set the 'tone at the top', and to insist (through reporting and walk-throughs) to ensure that the 'mood in the middle' is consistent and not, as is more common a 'muddle in the middle'.
Beyond the panelist's comments, my thoughts wandered to the title of Garratt's helpful book The fish rots from the head several times throughout the session. If the board is not leading by example, it is not leading at all.
This is the second update of several to summarise observations from the 33rd Governance Institute of Australia National Conference being held in Sydney this week. You can read the first update (opening session) here. This update includes observations from the late morning and early afternoon sessions.
The question explored by the panel in the late morning session was "Creating a safe harbour: Beyond the business judgement rule". Judith Fox (GIA Policy Director), Prof. Pamela Hanrahan (UNSW Business School) and John Stanhope (Chairman, Australia Post) discussed proposed changes to company law (safe harbour provisions). The panel noted that the establishment of a 'safe harbour' clause might lead to inappropriate incentives for directors and executives. Whether this possibility is any better or worse than the current situation (of boards providing little if any guidance in their forward looking statements) was discussed at length. The question was not resolved explicitly. However, the panel did agree that it is reasonable to expect boards to provide shareholders with 'fair' and 'reasonable' guidance' to indicate strategic intent, so that shareholders could make informed decisions about their ongoing interest in holding shares and director selections.
The early afternoon session spoke to emerging trends that directors and boards need to be aware of if they are to contribute meaningfully to the future performance of the company. Specifically, the topics were the Internet of Things and Innovation. Mike Briers grabbed the audience's attention by demonstrating how pervasive the IoT phenomenon is becoming: the level of connectedness and quantity of data generated as a result of millions of connected devices is expected to dwarf every other sector of commerce and life except, perhaps, astronomy. The challenge that IoT presents for boards relates entirely to strategy. How can or should boards respond to the ever advancing wave of technological innovations? What impact might any of these innovations have on current business models and markets? Boards need to create space in their meetings (and perhaps add meetings to the calendar) to grapple with these questions directly. Briers suggested that the rate of innovation is occurring at such a pace and complexity that boards and executives will struggle to understand, let alone respond well. Therefore, boards need to seek symbiotic relationships with other companies and experts. Collaboration is no longer an option. Companies should also prioritise investments in 'complex integration solutions' over behemoth systems. Amongst the turmoil, one thing was clear: if companies are not actively investigating emerging trends and technologies including the Internet of Things (amongst others) they risk becoming irrelevant to their current and future customers.
The 33rd Governance Institute of Australia national conference got underway in Sydney this morning. Some 160 'governance professionals' assembled from around Australia to explore the role of the company secretary, and emerging governance thinking and practice. This, the first of several conference reports, covers the first session of the two-day conference. (Note: these updates are not exhaustive accounts of ever session. Rather they provide summaries of key points made by presenters and observations from an interested delegate.)
The 33rd GIA conference promises much. The organisers have assembled a good programme and a strong line-up of speakers. However, the opening session felt like an opportunity missed. Why the organisers chose to lead out with a regulatory update (instead of a thought provoking message from a gifted communicator to reinforce the core theme of the conference) was beyond me and most of my table neighbours. Regardless, I look forward to the sessions that follow. More soon.
The Governance Institute of Australia's national conference starts on Sunday 27 November at the Hilton Hotel in the Sydney CBD. I'll be at the conference on 28–29 Nov(*) to listen to what looks like a great lineup of speakers, and to serve as a panelist on Tue 29. The panel topic is "The pursuit of productivity".
If you're going to be at the GIA conference and want to say hello, please feel free to phone me or send an SMS. My number is here.
Following the conference, I will remain in Sydney for two more days (Wed 30 Nov and Thu 1 Dec) for private meetings. If you would like to take advantage of my proximity to chat about corporate governance; board effectiveness; corporate strategy; emerging trends and the findings from my recent research; or, any related matter of interest, I'd be delighted to make a time to meet. Please get in touch to set up a meeting. Currently, there are several gaps in my diary including dinner on Wed 30 Now and breakfast on Thu 1 Dec.
(*) Session summaries will be posted here throughout the conference. Please check back if you are interested.
If I had a dollar for every time questions of board effectiveness and how to drive performance from the boardroom has been discussed in my hearing, I'd be well off. My role in answering these questions will continue in Sydney at the end of the month.
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.