In the past fortnight, Australia’s public broadcaster has lost its Managing Director as well as the Chair of its board. And on the basis of the evidence to hand, the manner of both departures seems to be a matter of people failing to understand their roles in the organisation. And it’s all a bit embarrassing. To borrow a line from Oscar Wilde, “to lose one looks unfortunate; to lose both looks like carelessness”.
One of the biggest problems with corporate and public sector boards is that many board members don’t really understand what boards do, or how they should behave as Directors. And most people in the community don’t understand, either.
For a start, boards should have minimal interest or control over operational matters. That’s the concern of the executive leadership team. Boards should only ever get involved in operational matters at the request of the executive and only then to resolve disputes, or to lend assistance in the interest of organisational sustainability or growth.
While boards appoint (and can dismiss) executive directors and CEOs, they should only become involved in the dismissal of an executive director where there is evidence of impropriety raised with the board.
Then there’s the issue of innovation and boards. While many board members might see themselves as guiding innovation, the board meeting agenda often suppresses any real innovation leadership from the board. And executive teams that see boards as limiting their own innovation activities often do a disservice to the actions of the board in undertaking due diligence.
While it’s unlikely we will ever know the true details of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation debacle of the last week, it appears that there was a overstep of the board in trying to influence the actions of the Managing Director, and there was probably poor engagement with the board from the executive over how to execute the innovation strategy. It indicates either unwillingness among the executive and the board to follow the rules, or worse, ignorance of the rules. Either way, it still looks like carelessness.