The responsibilities facing Boards of Directors today are really very different from what they were years ago, and rightly so. Mostly gone, but not entirely, are the "old boy" networks of good friends of the company Chairman. The short meeting and long lunch brigade where business was concluded on a nod and a wink, and where the meeting minutes were passed around for approval immediately after the meeting. I kid you not on the last one. I sat, very briefly, on a Board where that actually happened.
Of course there are benefits, outside the "old boy" syndrome, of having people on a Board that you can work with, which is why a number of Boards today consist of people with more than just a passing acquaintance to one another. Indeed I have contributed to it myself, by recommending to a company Chairman the name of someone I know who I believe would make an excellent Board Member. Although I will only consider recommending people who, if selected, would not cause me any embarrassment by their inability to perform.
The changes and improvements are welcome, but change is dynamic not static. Our modern world is one of constant evolution and innovation. Businesses compete more aggressively to cater to the needs and indeed demands of their customers or clients, whichever term you prefer to use. Boards of Directors cannot be immune to change and must also constantly renew, review, and be trained in the latest trends and practices, particularly in technology.
Over a number of years now I have been involved with Boards, initially as a presenter to them and later as a Board member myself. In all cases I am conscious of the fact that I am usually surrounded by a bunch of people who bring to their Boards an absolute wealth of knowledge, experience and common sense, acquired through years of practice. But that sense of consciousness also extends to the fact that as Boards we are being asked to take decisions and give our blessing to schemes that are going affect a different generation than ours. In other words here we are, a bunch of 50, 60 and 70 year olds (well not yet the latter in my case, of course), with our vast array of historic knowledge, approving proposals that are not likely to have an impact on us but will impact on future generations of staff, clients, shareholders and communities in general.
Those decisions, for many businesses today, involve the use of technology as a key ingredient. Although happily I don't think it applies to anyone on the Boards with which I am involved, I am aware of and get irritated by those Directors who take some sort of pride in saying they don't understand this "new fangled" stuff and worse, have no intention of learning about it. Frankly, if you don't want to use it fine, but at least try and understand it.
By all of this I am not suggesting for one minute that Boards have had their day; far from it indeed, but it is the composition of the modern day Board that interests me more. I think we need more creativity, more innovation and a voice from people who are going to be affected by the decisions taken at Board level - eventually probably through a responsibility for successful implementation of various decisions.
Boards have had to be forced in many companies to change due to regulation, and a need to be at least appearing to do the right thing. Lip service was a hiding place for a while, but no longer. Gender, racial, geographic and many other diversities frequently appear in corporate brochures and Board reports, although the evidence of success remains distinctly underwhelming. And if the Board is supposed to set the tone, then progress is generally glacial - and yes, I am being general. There are, as always, some market leading exceptions.
The next area that I believe we should develop now is room for young talent in the boardroom. For those technologically challenged older directors with grandchildren, find out what's going on in the real virtual world, by speaking to an eight year old! You'll soon find out what it is they are focusing on for their future lives. You think Facebook is some new thing that you don't understand? Don't worry - you don't have to be concerned because it's already becoming passé for a certain generation. Want to know about Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest (now overtaken Twitter in the USA), and Snapchat, speak to a teenager.
This is a fast developing area and whether you think so or not yourself, I am afraid you need to know how your company can use the social networks - actually must use the social networks, to get messages out to your client base so that damage limitation on negative news reports can be achieved. If you don't, the media and public interest will get you. And while you can of course get experts to come and and talk to the Board about these things, it is no substitute for having someone there with relevant expertise.
Board Meetings today are becoming very regulatory process driven affairs. But the profitable strategic direction of a company must still be a key focus. Boards today often include representatives from the fields of accounting and the legal profession to share their wisdom and give an informed opinion. Therefore, in the attainment of broadening the accumulated wisdom of our Boards we need a boost from the technologically savvy younger generation with the appropriate skills for the future. I would suggest this is a new priority.