Author's Name: Mark Schultz
Date: Mon 23 Nov 2015

Board communication channels – is just through the Chief Executive the only way?

Good governance requires the Board to work with and through the Chief Executive to maintain the distinction between Board and management duties and responsibilities. However, good governance also requires the Board to satisfy itself that the conduit between the organisation and the Board is free on any natural or imposed road blocks.

The benefits of a clearly defined and imposed internal communication policy include:

  • Everyone should know the process and understand how it works;
  • Clarity of the message – the less number of people who “pass on” the message, the less likely for it to be misconstrued along the way;
  • Separation of responsibilities, thereby reducing the likelihood of either the Board’s or the Chief Executive’s authority being undermined or diminished;
  • Stops (or should) potential “meddling “by Board members in management; and
  • Provides a generally accepted standard for governance and management.

There are however potential downsides to this approach, including:

  • Filtering of information both up and down the communication channel – this may be either accidental or, for some ulterior motive, intentional, the consequence of either being generally detrimental to effective governance;
  • If trust is lacking in the organisation or the “right” culture is not in place, this framework is likely to contribute further to this situation, rather than provide a means to make any improvements; and
  • If the right information is not going up and down the organisation, then the opportunity for “bad” decisions to be made by the Board is greatly enhanced.

To assist in reducing the risk of the downsides overriding the benefits of the preferred communication channel, here are a few strategies that Boards could adopt during the year:

  • Invite senior managers to present to the Board during the year – this will allow the Board to interact with staff other than the Chief Executive and provide the Board with an opportunity to re enforce its position on particular issues/polices;
  • Conduct site visits around the organisation, “meet and greet” sessions to better understand the operations of the business and again reinforce priority areas and the board position on particular matters;
  • Undertake staff surveys on an ongoing/rolling basis over the year – have the report made direct to the Board; and
  • Implement and communicate a Whistle Blowers policy and if someone enacts the policy, do something about it.  

Why do we have such an approach? - “Trust is an emotion, not a control system!“

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