Planning your board development

Sunday, 01 June 2014


    A look at the continuing education available to you and your board.

    As you approach the end of the financial year, you may review the year gone by and consider the challenges and opportunities the next financial year may bring. It is a time for reflection on your personal goals and for considering your professional development.

    A formal professional development plan helps to strengthen your capability in governance and directorship and maintain currency. The Director Self-Assessment Tool is useful as a starting point for assessing individual strengths, highlighting areas for further development and guidance on how your needs can be met. The tool is free to members and is available on the Company Directors website in the Member Services section.

    All too often, however, professional development remains an individual undertaking for directors, rather than a commitment by the whole board to improving its skills and capabilities. Excellence in governance is not just about individual excellence. It is also about benefiting from expertly combined wisdom and experience. A commitment to professional development for the entire board will reap considerable benefits for the organisation.

    Even the most experienced directors agree that you never stop learning as a director and that boardrooms are dynamic places, with directors learning with and from each other. A board evaluation process can form a key part of a formal board professional development plan. Board professional development often includes both technical and behavioural areas. Tools such as the Company Directors Governance Analysis Tool (GAT) can help boards to get an initial impartial view of their strengths and weaknesses and a guide on where to focus their attention. A range of learning opportunities is available to meet board learning needs, from traditional classroom-based learning to director-led learning experiences, webinars, eLearning, publications, events and more.

    Trying to devise a learning pathway for a board can seem like a daunting task, but all directors would agree that a thorough foundation knowledge is essential and that understanding the duties and responsibilities of directors is of paramount importance.

    Our Company Directors Course (CDC) is renowned worldwide as a comprehensive and practical guide to the roles and responsibilities of directors. Several boards use the CDC as part of an induction plan for new directors, or as part of the development plan for their pipeline of senior executives aspiring to directorship. The results are noticeable at the board table. 

    Indeed, veteran company director David Gonski AC FAICDLife confirms that CDC participants show “an immense improvement in their ability to participate, their self-esteem around the board table and … their general contribution to the organisation”.

    Once there is a solid foundation of knowledge, many new directors welcome the opportunity to practise and develop their boardroom skills in a realistic and “safe” environment with a supportive peer group. Scenario-based programs that take participants out of the traditional classroom-style learning environment into a simulated boardroom are often the solution to this. Programs such as these are also a good way of promoting high-potential women into the boardroom as part of diversity initiatives. The commitment by major corporations to the Board Ready program run by Company Directors is testament to the success of this approach.

    As Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac, explains: “With a workforce of almost 38,000, the Westpac Group has very high levels of diversity in gender, cultural identity and age. We need to ensure that we provide every individual with the opportunities and support to fully realise their potential. We are delighted with the Company Directors’ Board Ready program, which is designed to increase the strength and diversity of our future leaders.”

    More experienced boards often look to enhance their technical knowledge through updates and courses and these can be tailored to their individual boards to maximise value. This tailored approach follows the general trend in higher education towards more bespoke programs. When delivered in-house, these allow for frank and open discussion in the boardroom.

    Experienced boards looking for improvements in board dynamics often enrol some or all of their directors on “experiential” programs where they use their existing knowledge and skills in a challenging peer-learning experience. Mastering the Boardroom is recognised as an outstanding offering for experienced directors. Participants leave with a deeper insight into their own effectiveness as a board member and an appreciation of the emotional aspects of board decision making.

    The opportunity to learn alongside an outstanding peer group was the highlight for Karen Howard FAICD. “The openness and honesty among like-minded board members who challenged and supported with every spoken and unspoken word, without fear or favour, was priceless for me in terms of professional development,” she says.

    Whatever approach your board decides to take in its learning journey, there are several resources available from Company Directors and we encourage you to ask us for help and advice. Please contact your local divisional education manager for more details.

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