Archive for June, 2012

Should you always practice what you preach?

As consultants we make a living out of telling other people what they should do.  But have you ever been doing something, and felt a ghostly admonition saying to you:  “Why don’t you practice what you preach?”  Or more likely, heard the echo of an old family authority figure telling you: “Do as I say, not as I do?

I walked out of a remarkably successful board meeting a couple of weeks ago.  The next day I was scheduled to attend the meeting of another board where I was to be regaling them with “best practice” – how to get the right mix of skills and experience on the board, how to be clear about the expectations directors have of each other, how to develop an explicit board culture.

As that first board meeting finished, I pulled the vice chairman, and spiritual leader of the board, aside and said, “Mate, I am just doing that thing in my head about what I will be doing over the next 12 months, and I want to know if you need my board spot for someone who is better networked than me, to bring in some more money.”

To which he replied: “Get expletived.  You do other stuff for us.”  And I thought, wow, we’ve just had a board skills audit, and we didn’t even have a consultant facilitating a workshop to get there.

I love being on that board.  It is one of the most effective NFP boards I have ever experienced.  But we don’t:

  • Pursue diversity – we are all blokes in a certain age demographic, and (apart from me) are all practicing corporate heavy hitters
  • Have an explicit board culture – the unspoken rule is about having fun and taking the piss out of each other
  • Have a blow-by-blow director’s induction program
  • Talk about succession
  • Have a formalised risk management framework
  • Have a nomination committee.

However, this board still kicks ass – supports and mentors the CEO;  brings in a prodigious amount of money;  puts their hands in their own pockets;  promotes and champions the organisation at every turn;  has robust discussions, even fierce ones;  and makes fast and effective decisions.

So what’s the deal then, Mr Consultant?  I guess the lessons are:

  • if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it
  • it’s always about the people, and their intent  – there is no shortage of ego on this board, but ego is always subsidiary to commitment to the cause.

The CEO endearingly calls us “the boys”.  She sings her board’s praises to counterparts in the sector, and they are envious.

This board doesn’t fit the paradigm but it works.  “Best practice” is not the only practice.   Even the august ASX Corporate Governance Council says: “There is no single model of good corporate governance.”

That doesn’t mean, when boards are struggling, that there isn’t a place for good processes and practices, or consultants to guide the directors through them.

But I could perhaps better be more careful about what, and how hard, I preach.

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