Boards and culture: Just how do you do it?

  • What does culture really mean to the average director and board?
  • When considering joining a new board, you should seek to test any disparity in the cultural lens offered up by the chair and CEO.
  • What steps can a board take to make culture a priority issue?

Board table
Over my nearly 13 years’ in corporate governance practice, there have been a handful of issues which I’d hold out as being particularly challenging or opaque for boards and directors.

And that’s often because they don’t come with a predefined chapter in your governance handbook, or you’ve not yet been exposed to a high calibre board that routinely deals in these matters as skilfully and seamlessly as they might in strategy or finance. 

Cybersecurity, technology and digital transformation are just some topics that come to mind — these are often issues about which directors are told ‘… you must, you have to, boards should be…. etc etc’. But the rhetoric often falls short in providing directors with requisite guidance as to how to execute their governance duties across these topics.

Culture is probably the granddaddy of all opaque governance topics:

  • Outside of the academic literature (and the oft-quoted Peter Druker description), what does culture really mean to the average director and board? If I pulled you up on the street tomorrow or in the lift, what would your authentic answer be?
  • How important is it really — relative to other risks or opportunities for your organisation?
  • How much of your attention should you be giving it as a director and board?
  • And just how do you go about wrapping your directors’ arms around it, and understanding just where it’s at in your organisation?
  • If you find something questionable, what do you do about it?

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