Today marks the beginning of a lull following a busy programme of international and domestic commitments since early February. Over a 110-day period, I have spent time in Australia (four times), England (twice), the US (twice), Germany (twice), Ireland, Sweden and Lithuania—and at home in New Zealand; interacting with over 520 directors, chairs and chief executives from 19 countries. Formal and informal discussions at conferences, seminars, masterclass sessions, education workshops, dinners, advisory engagements and board meetings were instructive to understanding what's currently top-of-mind for boards around the world. The following notes are a brief summation of my observations. I hope you find them useful.
Diversity and inclusion: These topics continue to dominate governance discussions in many countries. But, and noticeably, the discourse has matured somewhat over the last six months. The frequency with which the rather blunt (and often politically-motivated) instruments of gender and quota is mentioned is starting to subside, as directors and nomination committees start to realise the importance of diverse perspectives and options to inform strategic thinking and strategising. Long may this continue, as board effectiveness is dependent on what boards do, not what they look like.
Big data and AI: What a hot topic! Globally, boards are being encouraged by, inter alia, futurists, academics and consultants to get on board (if you'll excuse the pun) with the promise that developments in this area will change the face of decision-making and improve corporate governance. Some assert that these developments will obviate the need for board of directors in just a few years. The directors I spoke with agree that these tools can help managers make sense of complex data to produce information, even knowledge. But these same directors have significant reservations when it comes to strategic decision-making. Automated systems are poor substitutes for humans when it comes to making sense of (even recognising) contextual nuances, non-verbal cues and other subtleties. Unless and until this changes, the likelihood that boards will continue to be comprised of real people engaged in meaningful discussion remains high.
Corporate governance codes: The number of corporate governance codes introduced in markets has been steadily rising over the last decade. Most western nations, and a growing number of Asian and developing nations, have implemented codes to supplement statutory arrangements. Many directors and institutions around the world continue to look to proclamations that the UK is the vanguard when it comes to corporate governance thinking and related guidance: the recently-updated UK corporate governance and stewardship codes are held up as evidence of good practice. While the quality of board work in the UK has improved over the last decade, a strong compliance focus continues the pervade director thinking—across the business community in the UK and beyond. The reason is stark: codes are little more than rulebooks. Further, rules don't drive performance, they define boundaries. The more time boards spend either complying with the rules or finding ways to get around them, the less time is left for what actually matters, company performance. In many discussions over the past few months, I've pointed people to the ground-breaking work of contributors such as Bob Tricker, Sir Adrian Cadbury and Bob Garratt. These doyens provided much-needed impetus to help boards understand their responsibility for company performance. The emergent opportunity for regulators and directors' institutions is to consider alternative responses to ineptitude and malfeasance: instead of creating more rules all the time, why not hold boards to account to the existing statutes, most of which seem to be eminently suitable?
Best practice: Many individual directors (and boards collectively) are starting to move beyond 'best practice' as an aspirational goal. Further, directors and boards are demanding to hear educators and thinkers who are also practicing directors, not trainers delivering off-the-shelf courses. Context is everything. The evidence? When a director asks to explore the difference between theory and practice you know something in his prior experience has missed the mark. Practising directors know that the board is a complex and socially-dynamic entity, and that the operational environment is far from static. Directors' institutes, consulting firms and trainers need to stake stock and move beyond definitive 'best practice' claims, lest they be left behind and become monuments to irrelevance. Enough said.
Governance remains a fashionable topic: If I had a dollar every time I've heard 'governance' promoted as a career in recent months, or the term used in discussions (including, sadly, often inappropriately), I would be really well off. But the act of invoking a term during a discussion is no panacea to whatever situation is being discussed. More capable directors are needed to contribute to the effective governance of enterprises, of that I am sure. But the established pattern of selecting directors from a pool of seemingly successful executives—as if a reward—is folly. The findings from a growing number of failure studies from around the world attest to this. The role of a director is quite different from that of a manager or executive. Managers and executives have hierarchical authority and decisions are made by individuals. In contrast, directors lead by influence and decisions are always collective. The challenge for those aspiring to receive a board appointment is to set their managerial mindset aside, to enable a more strategic mindset and commitment to the tenet of collective responsibility to emerge.
Standing back from these interactions, the board landscape seems troubled. But I remain hopeful. Progress is being made (albeit more slowly than many would wish) and a pattern is slowly emerging. Increasing numbers of directors are acknowledging that the board's primary role is to ensure performance goals are achieved, and that the appropriate motivation for effective boardroom contributions is service, not self.
The challenge is to press on. If the number of requests from those wanting to understand what capabilities are needed in directors, what boards need to do before and during board meetings, and desirable behavioural characteristics is any indication, boards are getting more serious about making a difference—and that points to a brighter future. If a tipping point can be reached, arguments centred on board structure and composition that have dominated the discourse can be consigned to their rightful place: history. I look forward to that day.
In a couple of weeks, I'll be in England and Europe, for the third and final time this year. The schedule includes attendance at two conferences, delivery of two keynotes and a bevy of meetings, as follows:
While the schedule is fairly full, some gaps remain for additional meetings (in London).
If you would like to meet, please get in touch. I'd be glad to discuss any aspect of boards, corporate governance or effective board practice; explore a research idea; or respond to (future) speaking or advisory enquiries.
This is the second of two instalments summarising observations from my recent two-week skip across Western Europe. This summary covers the UK leg of the trip. You can read the first instalment here; the European leg.
The trip was framed around four objectives, namely, to share learnings from my recently completed doctoral research and discuss the implications for boards; fulfil some speaking engagements; discuss emerging trends with boards; and, attend a training course. After travelling between cities (actually, countries) every day during the first week, the second week was much more settled. I was based in London for two-and-a-half days for meetings at institutions and with directors. The balance of the week saw me at Cambridge University, for a training course. Here's a brief summary of the key observations:
If you would like to know more about these observations, please get in touch.
The level of interest in board effectiveness and good governance outcomes seems to be growing, or so it seems if the number of advisory, speaking and workshop enquiries that have arrived in recent weeks is any indication. Already, 2017 is shaping up to be busier than last year!
My first trip to the UK and EU for 2017 is scheduled for mid-March. The programme is starting to take shape, as follows. Commitments include speaking engagements (topics: the board's role in value creation, emerging trends and findings from my latest research), workshops (board capability development), advisory meetings and a training course.
If you have a question or want to set up a meeting, please get in touch.
EDIT (30 Jan): My diary is now nearly full—the only remaining opportunities to book a meeting are in London. If you want to meet, but not in March, or if you want to discuss the possibility of an engagement in the future, please register your interest. At this stage, it is my intention to return to the UK and EU in June and September.
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 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.
I'm thrilled to announce that the Madinah Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (MILE) has invited me to present a webinar entitled Influencing company performance, from the boardroom. The webinar will start at 3:00pm Saudi time on Sunday 2 October—to suit American, UK/European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian company directors and board members in particular.
For more information, click here. You'll need to register (free).
The following topics will be discussed during the 45-minute webinar (with an open Q&A session afterwards):
Reserve your place today!
Recently, I had the privilege of addressing several groups of directors and executives in Brisbane, Australia on the topic of emerging governance trends. Over 200 directors of family and privately-held companies attended breakfast and dinner events hosted by TCB Solutions, Hanrick Curran and AMPLiFi Governance. The talks and the panel discussion that followed provided a candid summary of some of the challenges boards face and offered suggestions to guide boards intent on achieving high performance and good returns to shareholders.
The dinner event was recorded. Clips of my talk (in two parts) and the panel discussion (in three parts) that followed are now available:
If you have a question or a comment arising from these clips, or want to discuss the possibility of me speaking at an event or sharing ideas directly with your board, please get in touch. I'd be delighted to hear from you.
This is a brief note in two parts: to say 'thank you' and advise that I'll be in London and Paris again soon.
First, thank you for your continued interest in effective corporate governance as a means of fuelling high business performance. That so many directors and business leaders have contacted me over the last few years, either to tell their story or to seek guidance has been truly gratifying—and even more so when the same people reach out again, many glowing at increased business performance achieved following the initial conversation. So, thank you for reaching out.
Second, I will be in London again very soon (24–31 May), to continue the conversation with directors, boards and business leaders; ahead of a short visit to Paris (1–3 June), to present a paper at the EURAM conference.
Currently, my diary has a few gaps, so if you would like to take advantage of my proximity to discuss an aspect of corporate governance, board practice, strategy or firm performance; learn about emerging trends; or, toss around a 'live' challenge you are grappling with, please get in touch to schedule a meeting. I'd be delighted to hear from you and to attend a meeting at a time and place that suits you.
My availability in London is as follows:
My availability in Paris is more limited because of the conference. However, I am available for dinner meetings on Wed 1 June or Thu 2 June; or, an early morning meeting on Fri 3 June.
I look forward to chatting with you soon.
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.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and effective board practice; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.