News emerged today that many FTSE 250 company boards had made no contingency plans for a possible #Brexit decision. As Alice Korngold notes in her article, this highlights serious deficiencies in relation to risk management, board process and board composition. Korngold is right to challenge boards on this exposure. But does Korngold go far enough? Most of the concerns expressed are framed in the context of a traditional understanding of boards and corporate governance: monitoring the executive and managing various risks.
Directors carry important duties, to the company and shareholders. In addition to acting in the company's best interests, directors have an important responsibility to deliver value to shareholders (in whatever form might be agreed). This means that monitoring the executive and managing risks is insufficient. More is required. Boards also need to make important decisions to set the company on a path towards a desired future state.
An increasing percentage of directors say they are involved in strategy (read the surveys), suggesting boards do take their responsibilities seriously. However, observations of boards in session (i.e., board meetings) suggests that a gap exists between claimed and actual behaviour. Korngold's commentary adds to those concerns. That some boards are not performing the 'basics' of monitoring performance and managing risk adequately—let alone driving future performance—is problematic. What confidence can shareholders have that boards are considering strategic options and determining an appropriate strategy to achieve the company's purpose? The bluff and bravado that has permeated the discourse needs to be replaced with an authentic commitment to drive business performance. Is this too much to ask?
Looking to the future, if the result of the British plebiscite does little more than motivate boards to take the future performance of the company more seriously, then it will have been a worthwhile exercise. Until then, Barton and Wiseman's observations are likely to remain—sadly—resoundingly accurate.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.