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Advice from Outside the Square

Does Your Board Handle Change Well?

Does Your Board Handle Change Well?

Change is an inevitable part of life, and of the life of an Indigenous organisation.

I ask those readers who have been through the journey of Indigenous organisations through the 80’s to now to consider how the environment and climate around Indigenous organisations have changed.

The change from grant-funded operations to Native Title negotiations; the change of Governments, government agencies and legislation affecting Aboriginal people; and the change from the Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act 1976 to the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006, and how that has “professionalised” the Indigenous Board from the old “Council” or “Committee”.

Change is the future – how future proof is your Board?

Perhaps your Board needs a real shake-up to recognise that instead of the old way of doing things, instead of continuing to micro-manage and blur the governance distinction between governance and management, they need to think long term and strategically.

All too often, the corporation’s members, management and Board members themselves have allowed their Boards to dwell on the minutiae of today – where will the office be set up? What colours will it be painted? Who will we employ?

All these discussions are about today’s operational business, well within the jurisdiction of the CEO. If Boards do their work well, they would have chosen and mentored and monitored an appropriately qualified and appropriate CEO to make these operational decisions for them. They do not need to look over his or her shoulder.

However, what they do need to decide, is what long term direction the corporation should take. And, they need to understand and be prepared to make decisions about large scale change.

The key drivers of large-scale change for Indigenous organisations are the change of legislation and government policy affecting programs and people’s lives (as opposed to changes in program details); the pace of technological change affecting societal change – think social media and how quickly news gets out; the changes in demographics such as the number of Indigenous people in the region, their level of education, health needs appropriate to their age ranges, and so on.

Indigenous corporations are an important part of the regional economy and of the social lives of their constituents. They must manage change seriously and professionally.

In order to set up for the future, Boards need to restructure their thinking, and therefore their Board processes. From being open to what the future might bring, you can change small things like Board Agenda and Board papers to encourage future-thinking. Structural change includes periodically looking at possible long term scenarios and how you would react, making decisions about budgets that budget for change and ensuring resources are available to meet predicted change.

You should not continue a “business as usual” mind-set.

I mentioned a periodic look at possible scenarios.

I believe scenario planning is critical.

Businesses and governments have used scenario planning as a planning tool since the 1970’s. It is a model that forces people to ask the right questions in order to manage risk. Scenario planning is used to plan for emergencies and crisis management; it is used in large companies to prepare for several possible futures.

Scenario planning runs alongside risk management planning. However, don’t over-consult. If you follow the 80/20 rule, while everyone in your corporation may wish to have their say, perhaps only 20% of them will have the insights that you need. Keep consultation, communications and transparency open – all the time, but understand that when you come to the planning, only some of these ideas will have critical relevance.

I also mentioned restructuring the budget.

From scenario plans and other tools of anticipating change, you can check on what gets your investment of time and money – and what does not. If the investment ignores the future possibilities then you need to budget for change.

In doing so, you need to recognise that as there will be winners, there is more than likely to be losers. Some programs that you have run for a long time and that you are proud of, may no longer be relevant in 10 years’ time. As you change and budget for change, you need to anticipate and recognise that parts of your operations, and organisation, may have to be trimmed, changed, or removed, as you enter new frontiers with new programs.

At the end of the day, your Board already knows that change in life is inevitable. They probably already recognise that in some form, large scale change will happen. The question is are they actively set up to discuss, anticipate and plan for this large scale change?

Ultimately, you cannot accurately predict every change and when it will happen. However if you structure your Board and its processes to think about change, you are becoming ready for change. There will be risk – including the risk that you get it wrong – so be prepared to fail at something. But if you embrace risk rather than fear it, then you will be prepared for the risk, plan for it, and handle it better than if it came as a total surprise.

The last thing? Remember corporate change is a game of inches.

All you can do is to push the organisation along in small incremental improvements – but do this consistently, all the time.

So now, how well do you think your organisation is set up to handle change? Put in a comment and let’s start a discussion!

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