I'm in London this week, meeting business leaders and board advisors, listening to their stories and sharing a few of my own. Already, after just 24 hours, a strong theme is starting to emerge. A drum that I have been beating for several years now can be heard reverberating amongst the streets of the City and beyond.
Though faint at first, expectations are starting to move. Increasingly, shareholders, commentators and even some directors are beginning to voice concerns about what boards actually do. Many boards have operated in a perfunctory manner for years—the oversight of management has been a convenient diversion. However, the amount of the red tape boards have to deal with is lifting the stakes. The expectations on boards are rising. Last week, in Brisbane, many of the 220 directors that I addressed said that boards should spend more time on firm performance. Today, in London, the suggestion that compliance-based regimes do nothing for value creation and that boards need to allocate much more time to strategy was voiced in every meeting I attended. Next week, in Paris, who knows?
Are we on the cusp of a paradigm change? Is the stirring anthem of the république gaining momentum? Perhaps. That directors are now realising that more time must be invested doing what shareholders appointed them to do—setting strategy and steering companies towards agreed performance goals—should be music to one's ears. Might we even be witnessing a 'back to the future' moment, as directors and boards embrace Cadbury's plea: that corporate governance is the means by which companies are directed and controlled, with a performance objective in mind? I hope so.
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.