New Zealand endured a swarm of earthquakes earlier this week. The largest, at 6.5 on the Richter scale, caused damage and disruptions in Wellington. The CBD was 'shut down' for a day while damage was assessed and the area made safe. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. This morning, reports emerged that at least one heritage-listed building was too badly damaged for tenants to return. This highlights an interesting dilemma. We strive to preserve (and in some cases occupy) the past—hoping for the best—yet we need to plan for the future, lest unexpected events cause serious consequences.
There are striking parallels between heritage buildings and corporate governance. Most directors know they are responsible for maximising company performance, yet most boards spend the majority of their time monitoring historical performance—looking backwards!
Just as it is very difficult to drive safely if you spend most of your time looking through the rearview mirror, boards cannot hope to govern effectively if they spend the majority of their time reviewing reports and financial results. A glance to check progress should be sufficient. Directors need to take heed of this and change their focus, lest they inadvertently miss danger signs and run off the road as it were. Emerging research (including my current doctoral research, and an earlier project) suggests that time spent considering strategic options, developing strategy and making strategically important decisions—together with the executive—is time well spent.
The earthquake event this week provided a wakeup call to building owners and occupiers in Wellington. An admiration of the past is not always the best option. Modern structures are needed to support modern society. Perhaps the experience gained through the earthquake can catalyse a change in the boardroom as well—from monitoring the past to planning for the future. Or am I hoping for too much?
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and effective board practice; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.