Board effectiveness and good governance have been hot topics in the corporate world for many years. However, even as the debate rolls on, many find it challenging to agree on what effectiveness is or how to maximize it. As a result, a number of boards are having difficulties overcoming obstacles in a changing corporate climate.
If you want to get on the path to good governance, your board will need to operate on a concrete definition of effective leadership, learn to navigate the challenges of today’s business landscape, and gauge how to move forward in what feels like uncertain times.
When your board masters these concepts, good governance becomes nearly inevitable.
The Makings of an Effective Board of Directors: A 4-Part Definition
Before you can tackle the seemingly elusive issue of good governance, it’s vital to have a solid understanding of what makes an effective board. Here are four critical elements to consider:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors to see how they contribute to board efficacy in the short and long terms.
1. The Right People
A board must have directors with the right mix of skills and experience to meet the challenges the corporation faces.
However, what defines the “right” mix will depend on a number of factors, including the corporation’s mission, current weaknesses, and sector.
Additionally, the board should have a clear leader with management intermediary responsibilities and a solid workflow based on governance guidelines and committee charters.
2. The Right Processes
Every director should be thoroughly prepared for meetings. Read any information accompanying the meeting agenda and thoughtfully consider your position. If more information is needed, make sure to ask for it.
To maximize time for deliberation, the board should craft board agendas well before meetings, and it’s important to also document and follow up on all sessions.
3. The Right Relationships
Keep in mind that your board is working together toward a common goal. Board members should build relationships with each other without forming cliques. This means that every director should be contributing their views, including preliminary thoughts, to the discussion.
Ensure the culture is one of psychological safety, where everyone can raise concerns and issues without worry.
4. The Right Mindset
Even the most seasoned board members know they have room for improvement. Self-evaluations should always produce actionable feedback that is honest about areas in which directors are underperforming. Directors should then act on that feedback in meaningful ways that deliver results and can be reported on proxy disclosures.
3 Reasons Why Boards Must Pursue Effective Governance
The purpose of doing the work to become a more effective board member is so that the board can properly address the challenges facing the company. Consider these three key issues boards are currently facing and how the right governance techniques can help you overcome them:
1. Multifaceted Challenges
Any board member who has participated in strategic analysis understands that the threats facing today’s corporations are becoming more complex with each passing year.
From the increasing prevalence of cybersecurity issues to the rise of artificial intelligence, ESG awareness, and market globalization, boards must find a way to navigate multifaceted challenges.
Consequently, directors must be engaged in continual learning through training and outside experts.
Additionally, board composition must change to reflect the knowledge and skill sets needed to overcome both current challenges and those coming down the pipeline.
2. Political Polarization
Business, like many other aspects of modern life, has become increasingly polarized in recent years. Many corporations unwittingly get caught in the crosshairs of political and social issues, like climate change and civil rights.
Boards have to find ways to protect the corporation while avoiding alienating stakeholders at every level, including customers, employees, and investors. This is definitely an issue in which board dynamics can make a huge difference.
Board members must feel comfortable deliberating on these challenges from a variety of perspectives. Board leaders need to be able to lead even the most sensitive discussions back to the company’s culture and values, which should always be made clear to stakeholders.
3. Shareholder Activism
Shareholder activism is a major concern for boards everywhere. Today’s investors are not just speaking out about change; they’re also seeking to replace individual directors whose decisions don’t align with their desires.
To combat this, boards need concrete policies, methods, and approaches surrounding both board composition and refreshment. Because these tools go hand in hand and are each vital to success, it’s important that the board’s approach to one doesn’t threaten the scope of the other.
While boards do need to be refreshed, this should never come at the expense of having the necessary expertise and skill in the room when big decisions are being made.
Keys to the Evolution of Good Governance: What Boards Need Moving Forward
The world is changing. To have any chance of overcoming future challenges, boards must start thinking and behaving differently. Four ways that corporate boards can find success as the world moves forward include:
- Insightful Refreshment Practices: Focusing future refreshment strategies on ensuring that the culture of the board embraces turnover and that there are processes in place to support orderly and well-thought refreshment practices
- Third-Party Evaluations: Considering the use of third-party firms to conduct thorough director evaluations to help reduce bias and lead to more focused improvement
- Regular Discussion: Making room for regular discussion of current and future challenges, as being able to anticipate what is to come leads to better governance
- Inclusive Culture: Seeking to build a culture of inclusion that honors all perspectives to maintain cohesion among board members in the face of increasing polarization
By making these critical changes, boards are more likely to remain positively influential during times of rapid global change.
Good Governance Requires Commitment and Care
Good governance doesn’t happen without an effective board. To be effective, a board must have the right people, maximize time with the right processes, build the right relationships and a culture of psychological safety, and operate with the right mindset around feedback and director performance.
These elements are crucial to meet current and future business challenges. In a world where issues are becoming increasingly complex and shareholder activism continues to force individual directors into the spotlight, boards must find ways to put the right strategies in place to ensure longevity and ultimate success.
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