How can CEOs best work with boards?

Friday, 19 January 2024


    CEOs play a crucial and pivotal role in communicating with boards and management and in facilitating joint collaborative decision-making. Here Kate Russell, CEO of Supply Nation, outlines her strategies and insights for placing communication on the agenda, delineating differing key roles and responsibilities, providing two-way feedback and resolving disagreements. Russell will speak at the Australian Governance Summit in March this year on the topic of Forging a Successful Relationship with Management. Register now for #AGS2024.

    For Kate Russell, a proud Awabakal woman from Lake Macquarie and CEO of Indigenous business procurement agency Supply Nation, communication at board level is all about inclusion and taking all board directors along on the same journey, regardless of their origins and backgrounds.

    “I have a relatively big board,” she told AICD in a recent interview. “I have 10 directors and over 50 per cent of those are Indigenous. But it's also really important for me to bring the non-Indigenous board members on the journey.”

    She says it is necessary for the board as a whole to make sure they are on the same page, that they're using the same language and the same frame of reference.

    AGS 2024 Speaker Kate Russell00:54

    “I prefer to overcommunicate,” she says. “I think it's essential for executives and senior executives to proactively schedule open and honest conversations.” The topic of communication should be placed on the agenda regularly to make sure it's effective.

    “It really does give me and the management team an advantage to talk about communication, about what's working and what's not working, and to get to know the board of directors somewhat personally, to understand their motivations and how they think.”

    Roles of the board and management

    Russell says separating the roles and responsibilities of management down to strategic and operational is oversimplified. “One of the most important things that a board can do is to support innovative thinking. They can provoke, they can challenge, they can question better ways of working because they have that helicopter view. They can be strategic and ask those questions to ensure management is preparing for the challenges now and for the years ahead.”

    As CEO, she prefers to personally give and receive feedback regularly, so it doesn't become something unusual and a once-a-year report. She says feedback also needs to be a two-way street between board and management.

    On the question of resolving disagreements, Russell says when you have a diverse board or a diverse management team, there will be diverse views and sometimes disagreements. “This is healthy and normal. But to resolve those I find that referring to key documents, such as your strategic plan, your delegations and your board charter can help you understand where those limits should be.”

    More about Kate Russell

    Russell is currently a board director at the Diversity Council Australia and has previously served as a director for Yilabara Solutions and Interrelate. She started her role as Supply Nation CEO in July 2023.

    Previously she held senior roles at the Department of Planning and Environment, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Sydney and Canberra and the Catalan Department of Education in Spain. She returned to Australia to work in the community sector to focus on Aboriginal employment and leadership development, and eventually joined the NSW State Government in 2016.

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