At our last marketing forum in Hamburg, Tom Trainor, Chief Executive of the Marketing Institute of Ireland and EMC board member, spoke to our members about his perspective on governance for businesses.
Speaking at the start of his presentation, he commented: “We are all in business and sell to survive, and that includes membership associations like yourselves. To survive you have to be successful, and there are many contributing factors to this recipe for success. One of these is creating a platform for success through effective governance.”
But what exactly is governance?
In its simplest form, governance is defined as being about authority, decision making and accountability.
Within any organisation, the term governance determines who has authority, who makes decisions and how an organisation is kept accountable for its actions.
Having an effective governance structure in place within your organisation can ultimately lead to better business performance.
Not having the right approach to governance can leave your organisation plagued with issues which not only represent a PR disaster in the making, but also pose a real threat to the future running of your business.
Poor governance translates into poor leadership, and poor leadership leads to suboptimal performance. So how do you get it right?
Culture is key
Sadly, there are no quick fixes when it comes to governance. It takes time, leadership, understanding and determination to overhaul it.
This is where culture is key. After all, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Peter Drucker.
Governance cannot be divorced from culture, and how the Board interacts with the CEO is vital.
The CEO and Chairman of the Board must be aligned and have a mutual trust and respect for each other, if they are to succeed.
The Chairperson sets the tone, and the CEO is the key enabler of good practice. The Board sets where the organisation is going, and the CEO gets you there.
CEOs value the guidance and challenge that can come from a very experienced senior-level chairperson. They don’t want to be babysat – they shouldn’t be subservient to the Board, they are there to be empowered by it.
Don’t expect unanimity
As CEO, you can’t and shouldn’t expect Board unanimity. Quite the opposite. There needs to someone on the Board who is there to question and challenge, and decisions made by any Board need to be made on the back of debate and a vote.
The difficulty comes when there are too many cooks stirring the Board broth.
It’s advisable to reduce your Board to make it more manageable, but you need to ensure equity of the remaining members. No one member should be more ‘important’ than another, and any proposed members of a Board need to be carefully vetted, and appropriately skilled for the job.
Be realistic and pragmatic
Having a sense of realism in governance is also important. If someone isn’t up to the task of being a Board member because they don’t add value or aren’t able to commit to the extent necessary, for example, then it’s vital to be transparent in the process of hiring and firing.
However, this must be done in a very sensitive and respectful way.
“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” – Ronald Reagan.
Pragmatism is also vital. Having conversations about prioritisation between the CEO and the Board is important – it’s as much about establishing what you can do as CEO, as it is about stopping those things that should no longer take place.
There is no 15-minute recipe for success with governance, and the sooner you accept this, the quicker you can achieve the governance progress you need.
However, if you take accountability, leadership and culture and add to it with a peppering of understanding, empowerment and pragmatism, your recipe for governance success shouldn’t be too far out of reach.