Introducing Dr Peter Crow, a director, advisor, educator and writer with an extensive record of helping boards govern with impact.
With a life-long interest in leadership and organisational performance, Peter is a globally-recognised specialist in corporate governance.
Peter’s board service includes director, trustee and chair appointments. He has advised thousands of boards and directors, of private and listed companies, family firms, state-owned enterprises, government agencies and social enterprises.
We’ve asked Peter a few questions to explore governance trends and understand what directors need to be aware of to ensure they are well prepared to lead their business successfully into the future.
The world seems to be rapidly changing. How might this affect board work?
Geopolitical forces, technology disruptions and changing social expectations are swirling around, that is self-evident. While the immediate significance of these things may be debated, their impact on lives and livelihoods is likely to be significant, more so when the span of time is considered. Consequently, boards need to be alert to the wider context, to ensure they are not blind-sided or left behind.
The specific impacts on board work are perhaps best understood in terms of how boards should work. Boards are responsible for providing steerage and guidance, to ensure longer-term goals and objectives are achieved. This is governance, and boards must continue to govern, despite the impacts of disruptive forces that may press in. Fortunately, several universal principles provide the foundation for every board’s work.
What are these universal principles you refer to?
There are four. Every board must set direction, build capability, ensure performance, and provide an account. Critically, the way these principles are practiced needs to change to suit the specific circumstances in play.
In periods of high change and disruption, boards may need to meet more often, and they may need to change their approach (meaning, practice differently), to ensure they keep on top of things.
How will technology shape approaches to governance?
Technology is a critical enabler. It can help make sense of seemingly disparate data and it can help ensure the board receives information in a timely manner. The days of kilograms of board packs are rapidly becoming consigned to history. Board portals, such as Stellar, are proving helpful to ensuring directors have everything they need at their fingertips, regardless of where they might be. But portals, and AI systems too, are enablers, not replacements. The likelihood of them displacing boards is pretty slim.
What of inclusivity and representation?
The question of whether boards understand the expectations of the stakeholder communities they serve, or think they understand, can be the difference between effectiveness and irrelevance. Directors should engage directly with a range of stakeholders to ask them questions and hear their expectations firsthand. But directors should not be deceived: from the moment they are appointed, they owe a duty to act in the best interests of the company, treat all shareholders equally, and not favour any specific group.
What are the implications of increased digital surveillance for privacy and freedom?
This is becoming topical, even compelling, for boards. Are boards adequately informed? Many are not. The implications for boards are many, and they extend far beyond putting a privacy or cybersecurity policy in place. Directors need to invest more time, to get up to speed and remain current. A reasonable rule of thumb for directors of substantive companies is to allocate one week, per board, per month. Directors should also seek advice, to understand case law and what privacy settings and tradeoffs might be appropriate.
What lessons can we learn from historical governance models to apply to future challenges?
My overarching comment is that the statutes and universal principles remain fit for purpose. What is needed, more than ever, is a cohort of capable directors who are familiar with what corporate governance is, how it might be practiced, and the role of the board. But more than this, directors need to become committed to the cause and to treat their appointments as acts of service, not opportunities to build reputations and earn fees. The sooner this occurs, the sooner we’ll see directorship take its place as a profession worthy of acclaim and respect.
Thanks so much Peter for your insightful answers. If you think board portal technology could benefit your business, get in touch here: https://bit.ly/4abE1P7