Caroline Oliver on ‘What owners might expect of a great board’

In her latest book – Getting Started with Policy Governance – Caroline posits that owners of organisations would like to have great boards (see pages 54-55). Broadly speaking she defines a great board as oneĀ that produces, on behalf of the owners, value in a safe and ethical manner

She goes on to propose nine key characteristics that owners might expect of a great board:

1. Uncompromising in its allegiance to owners’ interests. Board members should be as free from conflicts of interest as possible. Boards should have clear processes to ensure that any unavoidable conflicts are declared and then managed effectively.

2. Focused on the best interests of all owners. Boards should strive to ensure that they can justify everything they do as being in the best interests of all owners (including, to an appropriate degree, the best interests of future owners). Board members should not pursue the interests of any subset of owners to the exclusion of other owners.

3. Able to ensure successful, safe and ethical operation. Boards should be able to assure their owners that their organisation is delivering a reasonable interpretation of their best interests in terms of successful, safe and ethical operation.

4. Disciplined enough to act as a group authority. Owners’ authority lies in the board as a whole and not in any one board member. Even if your board members were appointed or elected as individuals, they were all appointed or elected to govern everything on behalf of everyone. Thus, owners need their board members to be disciplined enough to act as a principled group authority rather than as individual players in a personality-driven combat zone.

5. Diverse enough to make wise decisions. Wise decisions are decisions that have been arrived at through examining multiple viewpoints. Owners expect boards to to bring to bear a variety of opinions and outlooks that reflect their own diversity.

6. Willing to get independent expert help when needed. Owners need boards to be humble enough to know what they don’t know, realistic enough to know that they can never know everything, and willing to get advice they need when they need it.

7. In command. Owners need boards to be leaders, not followers – that is, clearly in charge, providing proactive leadership that transcends the executives of the month. Owners need boards to be clear and firm about what their expectations are and who has what authority.

8. In communication. Owners need boards to use regular communications with them to create the organisation’s future and be accountable.

9. Aware of the value of their own role. Owners need boards to value their role as ownership representatives and invest in the education and administrative resources needed for good performance.

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