- In the case of a company – its board of directors;
- In the case of an incorporated association – its committee
- In the case of a statutory authority or public
sector organisation – its board of directors or duly
The board is responsible for the overall governance,
management and strategic direction of the organisation
and for delivering accountable corporate performance
in accordance with the organisation’s goals and objectives.
This responsibility is usually set out in the organisation’s
constitution or in the enabling legislation under which
the organisation is registered or incorporated.
In performing its role, specific responsibilities commonly
reserved to the board either in its constitution, its board
or governance charter or by cultural practice include:
- Providing strategic direction to the organisation and
deciding upon the organisation’s strategies and objectives
in conjunction with the CEO;
- Monitoring the strategic direction of the organisation
and the attainment of its strategies and objectives in
conjunction with the executive;
- Monitoring the operational and financial position
and performance of the organisation generally;
- Driving organisational performance so as to deliver
member value or benefit;
- Assuring a prudential and ethical base to the
organisation’s conduct and activities having regard
to the relevant interests of its stakeholders;
- Assuring the principal risks faced by the organisation
are identified and overseeing that appropriate control
and monitoring systems are in place to manage
the impact of these risks;
- Reviewing and approving the organisation’s internal
compliance and control systems and codes of conduct;
- Assuring that the organisation’s financial and other
reporting mechanisms are designed to result in adequate,
accurate and timely information being provided
to the board;
- Appointing and, where appropriate, removing the CEO,
monitoring other key executive appointments, and
planning for executive succession;
- Overseeing and evaluating the performance of the
CEO, and through the CEO, receiving reports on the
performance of other senior executives in the context
of the organisation’s strategies and objectives and their
- Reviewing and approving the CEO's and, in conjunction
with the CEO, other senior executive remuneration;
- Approving the organisation’s budgets and business plans
and monitoring major capital expenditures, acquisitions
and divestitures, and capital management generally;
- Ensuring that the organisation’s financial results are
appropriately and accurately reported on in a timely
manner in accordance with constitutional and
- Ensuring that the organisation’s affairs are conducted
with transparency and accountability;
- Overseeing the design, implementation and periodic
review of appropriate and effective policies, processes
and codes for the organisation, which depending
on the organisation, may include with respect to
ethics, values, conduct, securities trading, disclosure
of securities’ price sensitive information, employment,
remuneration, diversity and otherwise;
- Ensuring sound board succession planning including
strategies to assure the Board is comprised of individuals
who are able to meet the responsibilities of directors
of the organisation;
- Overseeing member and stakeholder engagement,
reporting and information flows.
What is the role of the board?
In practice, the role of the board including governing,
directing and monitoring an organisation’s business,
affairs and operations in two broad areas.
Overall organisational performance: ensuring the
organisation develops and implements strategies and
supporting policies to enable it to fulfill the objectives set
out in the organisation’s constitution. Commonly
the board delegates the day to day operations of the
organisation to the management team via the CEO but
remains accountable to the members and shareholders
for the organisation’s performance. The board monitors
and supports management in an on-going way.
Overall compliance/conformance: ensuring the organisation develops and implements
systems, processes and procedures to enable it to comply
with its legal, regulatory and industry obligations
(complying with the law and adhering to accounting and
other industry standards) and ensure the organisation’s
assets and operations are not exposed to undue risks
through appropriate risk management.
The differing emphasis of these two areas of organisational
performance and conformance/compliance responsibilities
can result in conflicting pressures on boards and their
members. Boards must balance these roles and give
appropriate attention to both.
The following model by Professor Robert Tricker provides
a useful guide to the performance and compliance dilemma
for boards and their directors:
The board’s role in the organisation’s governance
Corporate governance can be defined as the framework
of rules, relationships, systems and processes within
and by which authority is exercised and controlled
in corporations. There are practical benefits for an
organisation in having effective corporate governance.
Some studies indicate first a correlation between strong
organisational performance and a good or effective
corporate governance and secondly that corporate
governance is a significant factor investors consider
when making investment decisions.
Boards are responsible for the corporate governance
of their organisations. There is no one size fits all when
it comes to what constitutes good corporate governance
for an organisation. Much depends on the organisation’s
size (scale and geographic spread), people (skills and
experience), business model (mature or evolving), nature
of operations (relatively simple or complex), regulatory
exposure and risk profile, to mention but some aspects.
In Australia, corporate governance of ASX listed public
companies operates on an if not, why not approach rather
than mandatory detailed regulation as is more common
in the USA. This approach means that, in general,
a company does not have to comply with the ASX
Corporate Governance Council’s (ASXCGC) Corporate
Governance Principles and Recommendations 3e (2014),
but, if it does not, then it must disclose in its annual report
or other public statement on its governance why not.
This approach is seen as the best way to provide guidance
but at the same time to allow the necessary flexibility.
Getting the right skills on the board
Boards need to have a broad mix of skills, knowledge and
experience. Different directors have different skills and
backgrounds. The goal in selecting board members is to
build a mix that can work as a well-rounded team of people
each with an appropriate range of experience skills and
attributes relevant to the purpose, needs and strategies
of the organisation. In selecting a new board member,
the board should consider the skills, knowledge, attributes
and experience needed to govern the organisation both
now and in the future.
It is important to select board members who have
sufficiently broad experience in the issues and
opportunities the organisation is facing now or is likely
to face in the future. While specific skills required by
each board differ, there are some core skills that should
be represented on a board as a whole (not necessarily
in one person).
- Strategic expertise – the ability to set and review
strategy through constructive planning, questioning
- Accounting/Financial literacy – the ability to read
and comprehend the accounts and the financial
material presented to the board, in addition to
understanding financial reporting requirements –
the Centro case (ASIC v Healey (2011)) has
emphasised the need for basic financial literacy
for all board members;
- Legal skill – the ability to understand and oversee
compliance with numerous laws;
- Managing risk – experience
in risk management and mitigation principles;
- Human resource skills – experience in human
- Marketing and communications – experience
in media and marketing;
- Industry knowledge – experience in similar
organisations or industries;
- Information technology – there is a growing need
for directors with an understanding of information
and communication technology;
- Capital markets experience – experience in capital
raising and mergers and acquisitions.
If boards are to be kept to a manageable size, then at least
some board members may need to possess a number of
these attributes and skills. Additionally, if an organisation
has special needs or exposure to a particular stakeholder
group, it makes sense to include a director who has
experience in that area. For example, an organisation
that spends a great deal of time doing business with
government may need someone with first-hand experience
of the bureaucratic and political process. Care should
be taken by boards not to appoint and invariably rely
upon an individual director as a specialist advisor
to the organisation.
Board decision making?
All board decisions are made collectively and all
board members share equal responsibility for
board resolutions even if they may have expressed
reservations at the time. This collective responsibility,
accountability and wisdom (with its implicit checks
and balances) are an important feature of good
governance and decision making of Australian boards.
As diversity of perspective is seen as a valuable addition
to a board’s deliberations, boards should have a diversity
policy which has measurable objectives for achieving
diversity including diversity of gender, age, ethnicity
and life’s experiences.
What are board committees?
Boards are responsible for monitoring and overseeing
many aspects of an organisation. To help cope with
the scope of work and the technical complexities
of some of these aspects, boards create committees
of some of their members to review issues and make
recommendations to a board for collective decision making.
In large public companies these committees generally
include the audit committee, the risk committee,
the remuneration committee and the nominations
committee. Some boards also have committees that focus
on governance in the areas of the environment, health
and safety and community and stakeholder relationships.
There are specific requirements for companies within
the S&P/ASX All Ordinaries Index and the S&P/ASX
300 Index in relation to audit committees. Listing Rule
12.7 requires a company in the S&P All Ordinaries Index
at the beginning of its financial year to have an audit
committee during that year. If the company was in the
S&P/ASX 300 Index at the beginning of its financial year,
it must follow the recommendations of the ASX Corporate
Governance Council's Corporate Governance Principles and
Recommendations 3e (2014) on the composition, operation
and responsibility of the audit committee.
Boards have discretion to adopt or reject a board
committee's recommendations or to refer the decision
back to the committee for re-consideration. If the board
delegates the formal exercise of any of its powers
to a committee, it is important to note that the board
and its directors remain responsible for the exercise
of power by that committee, subject to any fair delegation
defences that may be available (for example, for companies
registered under the Corporations Act 2001 refer s 190)
The board’s role in selecting a CEO
One of the most crucial roles of the board is to select the
CEO for the organisation. As the leader of the management
team, the value of the CEO to the organisation cannot
be underestimated. The board and CEO should aim to work
in close co-operation with one another.
CEO succession planning is an important aspect of the
board’s role. The needs of an organisation will change over
time and a CEO who is an excellent appointment today and
in the short term may not be the best person for the longer
term. For example, an organisation undergoing a period
of major change can benefit from a CEO with skills and
experience in this area but may respond better to a CEO
with a different skill set when the period of major change
is over and the circumstances are more settled.
The board’s role in strategic planning
Developing and setting a clear strategy for the organisation and then
implementing it are vital to the success of an organisation. Without clarity
of strategic purpose and certainty about what the organisation does
and doesn’t do, the organisation may have trouble achieving its objectives.
An important part of developing and implementing strategy is to clearly
delineate between the roles of the board and management. The level of board
contribution to strategic thinking and planning may vary according to the
organisation, its current situation, its size, its people and any other number
of factors. Large businesses tend to have a strong and highly skilled executive
team who can help in formulating the essence of a sound strategic direction
for consideration and approval by the board. In this case, the board’s role may
centre more on questioning, challenging and clarifying.
In smaller organisations the board itself may play a more instrumental role in
support of management in the development of strategy prior to its submissions
to the board for approval. An organisation in crisis might also require greater
board involvement than usual.
Generally management has the responsibility to implement the strategy
so it is important that the key executive management personnel support it.
“ In smaller organisations
the board itself may play
a more instrumental role
in support of management
in the development
of strategy prior to its
submissions to the board
To formulate strategy, offsite sessions are often recommended by business
commentators and advisers to minimise distraction and to allow a different
type of thinking from day to day or regular work to occur. Annual sessions
are common in strategy development and review, although more frequent
reporting (at least quarterly or half yearly) is common with respect to the
board monitoring the organisation’s progress against its strategic plan.
Developing and communicating a clear strategy for the organisation
can help to build stakeholder and investor confidence.
The board’s role in setting ethical standards?
Compliance with the law is the minimum standard for running an organisation.
There are ethical values which should govern the way in which an organisation
operates. It is now widely accepted that inculcating those values in an
organisation’s culture is an essential role for the board. For example Principle
3 of the ASX Corporate Governance Council's Corporate Governance Principles
and Recommendations 3e (2014) is that “a listed entity should act ethically and
All directors would do well to heed the advice of Owen J, who conducted
the Royal Commission inquiry into the collapse of the HIH insurance group:
"Did anyone stand back and ask themselves the simple question – is this right?
...Right and wrong are moral concepts, and morality does not exist in a vacuum.
I think all those who participate in the direction and management of public
companies, as well as their professional advisers, need to identify and examine
what they regard as the basic moral underpinning of their system of values.”
The role of the board in APRA-regulated organisations?
The prudential standards of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority
(APRA) outline special requirements of directors of its regulated entities,
such as banks, building societies, insurance companies and superannuation
funds. There are fit and proper standards relating to responsible persons who
are the directors and senior management. To be accepted as “fit and proper”
a director must have the necessary skills, knowledge, experience, diligence
and soundness of judgement to undertake the duties of the role.
People who have been unwilling to comply with legal obligations, have breached
fiduciary duties, been negligent or deceitful, have been disciplined, disqualified
or subject to an enforcement action by a professional or regulatory body
regarding honesty and integrity, have been substantially involved in a business
failure or held in bad repute in a business community are deemed to not be fit
and proper. APRA expects an annual review of a person’s fitness and propriety.
See, for example, Prudential Standard CPS 520 'Fit and proper' (January 2013).
This document is part of a Director Tools series prepared by the Australian Institute of Company Directors. This series has been designed to provide general background information and as a
starting point for undertaking a board-related activity. It is not designed to replace legal advice or a detailed review of the subject matter. The material in this document does not constitute
legal, accounting or other professional advice. While reasonable care has been taken in its preparation, the Australian Institute of Company Directors does not make any express or implied
representations or warranties as to the completeness, currency, reliability or accuracy of the material in this document. This document should not be used or relied upon as a substitute for
professional advice or as a basis for formulating business decisions. To the extent permitted by law, the Australian Institute of Company Directors excludes all liability for any loss or damage
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