As mentioned last week, I will be presenting a paper at the ICMLG Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The conference dates are 7–8 February 2013.
If you require any assistance with strategy, governance or related topics, and would like to take advantage of me being in the region, please let me know. I have time available immediately before and after the conference—and am happy to meet with Boards, CEOs or any leadership group in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong or Australia, if required.
Please contact me directly if you have a requirement.
Innovations, panaceas and fads
According to a survey commissioned by accounting software firm MYOB and conducted by Colmar Brunton, New Zealand firms are slow adopters of technology. A newspaper article which summarises the research report was published today. The report contains statistics about the digital world, including cloud-computing uptake and website presence. The article suggests that NZ businesses are "off the pace", and goes on to imply that the NZ economy is weaker as a result of slow technology adoption.
Gosh, this is heady stuff. The Internet has changed the way we live and work, and no doubt will continue to do so. But to say that an economy is weaker because uptake of the latest iterations of computing capability is slow is a big call. Businesses need to get clear about their motivations and choices. I know many SME firms that operate well (ie. very profitably) using so-called legacy computing systems. They have not embraced cloud computing (for example) because the financials and or security risks simply do not stack up for them.
Finding new and more efficient ways of doing things is an important element in the business mix. In fact, the pursuit of sustained competitive advantage demands that we continue this quest. However, jumping on-board with a new development because everyone else is seemingly doing so is not a sufficient justification. We need to be careful to avoid the trap of seeing all innovations as panaceas. We have much to learn from history in this regard. While some innovations will prevail, many of today's so-called innovations will be re-labeled as "fads" in the future, just as we have re-labeled earlier developments. Let's keep our eyes open and our brain engaged when looking at new innovations. I suspect the economy will be better for it.
*Declaration. I happily use a mix of cloud- and local-computing tools on a daily basis.
The development of strategy and strategic decision-making have emerged as core themes in my doctoral research in recent weeks. Regular readers will know I am investigating the governance–performance relationship, in an effort to explain the impact boards have on company performance (because we currently don't know).
When one considers strategy and strategic decision-making, the question "Where should thought-leadership for strategy lie?" raises its head. One commonly-cited view is that the board should set vision and goals, management should develop strategy (for the board to approve), and then management should implement the approved strategy. Others say the board should drive everything and management should simply implement the board's wishes.
Forming a view on this question is central to my research. So, what do you think? I'd value contributions from anyone with a story to tell!
I'm thrilled to announce that a paper summarising my post-graduate research project has been selected for presentation at the International Conference on Management Leadership and Governance (ICMLG), to be held in Bangkok in February 2013. I'm looking forward to sharing my findings, and to discussing governance with other researchers and practitioners. The full title of my paper is:
"The impact of governance on the performance of a high-growth company: an exemplar case study".
Papers cannot be published prior to the conference, however a copy of the abstract is available here. The full paper will be published on my Research page following the conference. If you'd prefer me to send you a copy, please let me know!
Armstrong's fall from grace
Grahan Dunbar summarised the views of many this morning with this directly worded piece:
Forget the seven Tour de France victories. Forget the yellow jersey celebrations on the Champs Elysees. Forget the name that dominated the sport of cycling for so many years. As far as cycling's governing body is concerned, Lance Armstrong never existed. Once considered the greatest rider in Tour history, the American was cast out on Monday by his own sport, formally stripped of his seven titles and banned for life for his involvement in a massive doping programme that tainted all of cycling and his own reputation. "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling," said Pat McQuaid, the president of cycling's governing body. "This is a landmark day for cycling."
Initially, I sidled with those who were slow to condemn Lance Armstrong, primarily because no direct evidence (a positive drugs test) had ever been reported. Other drugs cheats had either been caught red-handed (blooded!) with a positive test, or admitted their guilt. Not Armstrong. Either he was clean throughout, or dirty but one step ahead of the testers. I wanted to give the man the benefit of the doubt. However, on the weight of much evidence, including many affidavits from teammates who broke the code (of silence), USADA and UCI have determined Armstrong cheated. I too am now convinced. Irrespective of the politics and personal motivations (and payments?) to speak out, the circumstantial evidence provided is compelling. Armstrong cheated. Now he must face the consequences.
But tomorrow will dawn a new day. We must move on. My hope and prayer is that professional cyclists, their minders and the sport's administrators learn from this sorry case. There is no room in any sport for cheats. Man has much to gain from competing, but only when the competition is clean and fair.
At high school, I was an "above average" middle distance runner. I won a few races and was selected for regional competitions. Running on the track seemed to come reasonably naturally to me. I didn't train to any great extent. In contrast, the hurdles races were a challenge. I just couldn't get the timing right and would inevitably knock over hurdles or, worse still, end up in a heap somewhere along the track. Despite practice, I struggled—until one day I slowed down, concentrated entirely on technique, and cleared all 10 hurdles! Looking back along the track, the sight of 10 standing hurdles spoke volumes. I had accomplished my goal. I promptly retired (at the ripe old age of 16), having achieved my only clear run, ever.
Visual feedback is great. It gives a sense of achievement. Whether it's looking back at 10 standing hurdles, admiring a painted wall, or taking in the vista having climbed a mountain peak, the sense of progress and achievement is tangible and immediate.
This week, I cleared another (albeit small) hurdle along my research journey. The doctoral journey is long and arduous. Breaking it down into bite-size chunks is necessary, for my own sanity and to measure progress. My research proposal was submitted for consideration by the Confirmation Panel. While I still have to defend the proposal in front of the panel, the sense of accomplishment that came from completing and submitting the written the proposal was very real. For six months, I have been preparing for this week—reading, thinking, collating ideas, arguing with myself (and others on a couple of occasions), editing text and adjusting my argument. If the proposal (and my defence) is acceptable, I'll lock in another "cleared hurdle", and get started on the next chunk of work—ethics and case selection. Fingers crossed.
Have you noticed the rising tide of news stories about corporate governance in recent months? While some have highlighted the fraudulent behaviours of some boards and directors, most of the articles have focussed on efforts to improve the quality of governance around the world.
Much of the current discussion is focussed on regulation and diversity. Some regulators, including those in Singapore, believe that good regulatory frameworks are key to investor confidence. Many others, including Hong Kong's Exchange HKEx and noted academic Dr Richard Leblanc, are promoting diversity as a means of improving the quality of governance. I applaud these moves, but question whether regulation and diversity are the variables that will reliably deliver the main goal of good governance: better company performance. Regulation, for example, is a compliance tool not a growth tool. While they provide important safeguards for shareholders and stakeholders, they don't help companies to grow.
My conclusion, having reading hundreds of research reports and peer-reviewed articles, is that behavioural factors, social context and an active involvement in strategic decision-making are far more important than regulatory, structural or composition factors. As such, this is where our efforts to improve governance performance should lie.
Ultimately though, the bottom line remains the same. Shareholders—whether professional investors or small business owners—need to know that the board is fulfilling its mandate to maximise company performance. If regulation or diversity helps achieve that, then well and good. If not, then let's move our attention to other factors—quickly—for the good of our economy and society.
This is a quick note to let you know that I am back on deck after a wonderful road trip with my wife. We clocked up 1200 miles (sorry, the odometer in our old car registers "miles") during our holiday in the South Island of New Zealand. Along the way, we walked, talked, sat, saw some stunning scenery and spent some time with our two sons. While I've really enjoyed the time out, my doctoral research was never far from my mind. Normal [blog] transmission will resume in the next day or two.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.