A couple of weeks back my blog called Valuing your Pressure Cooker was about how you need to consistently remind staff of your corporate values while you put them under pressure to perform. If you don’t, staff may start to find unethical ways to get the job done. Reminding people of values is therefore a preventive method. What about a method to detect poor behaviour? 

I was listening to an ABC Best Practice podcast this week about “ungoverned incompetence” where Peter Cebon, senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, was suggesting that the best boards are problem-finding boards. In essence, boards that have set up processes to ensure problems (predictable and hard to predict) are looked for and find their way to the board. 

This opens up an old can of worms. How does a board provide appropriate stewardship and at the same time let management get on with the job? 

The key to getting this right is trust. Management and the board must trust each other that they are both there for the good of the organisation and that they are willing to work cooperatively to put mechanisms in place that will surface issues. Cebon tells of Indian tech giant Infosys and how they have a saying to facilitate this “Noses in, fingers out.” 

Board members need access to a depth in the business where they can gain a true understanding of what different parts of the business are actually about. Once that is achieved the board is in a position to ask the right questions of any initiative or change in circumstance. If the board does not get a satisfactory answer, management has more work to do and should be happy the right questions were asked. If they are, trust is enhanced not damaged.

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