Why we must fail better

The Australian Institute of Company Directors recently hosted a panel discussion and asked leading directors from across the listed, NFP, private and public sectors what their boards would look like in the future and what qualities directors would need to guide their organisations to future success.

The panel discussion, comprising OzForex director Melinda Conrad FAICD, former New South Wales Premier and chair of the European Australian Business Council, The Hon Nick Greiner AC FAICD, Telstra director Steve Vamos GAICD, and governance consultant Jane Allen, emphasised that board directors would need inquiring minds and an ability to navigate uncertainty. Below - each panellist shares their vision for the boards of tomorrow.

Melinda Conrad FAICD: “Boards must be more open to failure”

"It’s quite clear the people who do best in business are comfortable with uncertainty. They can cope when they can't see the answer but are comfortable piecing it together as best they can along the way. They might not have 100 per cent of the answer but they're ok with 80 per cent. And they know that solving the puzzle will take time. That's what you look for in management and it should be the same with boards. Boards have to have a fundamental willingness to learn if they are going to be able to cope with the rapid pace of change and the uncertainty it brings.

Boards also must be more open to failure. There are cultures that are better at failure than we are. And it's something that I think as a country and a business community we need to have more conversations about in terms of taking risks."

Steve Vamos: “Now – instead of controlling – boards need to connect and engage”

"There is going to be a lot more pressure on boards to have the right conversations about what needs to change, where and why. Then that needs to be projected in the organisation right from the top to every staff member. Boards will need to govern this alignment much more than they have in the past. And they will need to make sure the management has that capability. I certainly didn't have it until a long way into my journey.

To get to where I am, I was trained to be in control and look like it. The priority was not to stuff up, to always know the answer. That approach works as long as things aren't changing. Now – instead of controlling – boards need to connect and engage. They have to be open and inquisitive. Instead of being afraid to make mistakes, you have to appreciate you will not get change without mistakes. It doesn't happen without mistakes. Mistakes have made us good at everything we're good at."

Nick Greiner: “My grandchildren are far more independent of mind than I was”

"Society is changing and boards will change with society. My grandchildren are far more independent of mind than I was. They are far more courageous in terms of challenging their teachers and parents and grandparents.

Courage is very important because in an uncertain and difficult environment, people can't take a Canute-like position of saying we're just going to stick to what we're doing. Boards will need courage to adapt."

Jane Allen: “Boards will need to be intensely curious”

"Boards will need directors that are intensely curious. They will be very, very hungry for information. They should be constantly questioning things. This is more important than it ever has been before. They won't always need to be right.

How they work with others will also matter to them. And getting to a better commercial outcome will matter to them. They will be determined to make sure the strategy in place really is the right strategy.”


Melinda Conrad will be speaking on the panel 'Tales from the Corporate Battlefield' at the 2017 Australian Governance Summit, while The Hon Nick Greiner will speak on the panel 'Policy making for the long-term – one year on'

Want to find out more about the Australian Governance Summit? View the 2017 program here.

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