How might we heal broken business models?

Businesses and for-purpose organisations are guided by the board directors elected to shape strategy and manage risk. To shape the direction of the Next Economy, board directors must nurture a different skill set than what’s traditionally been embraced. Small Giants’ Francie Doolan expands on why Next Economy Governance is the must-learn course for all Board directors interested in a new form of leadership.

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Caitlin Stanway
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A Q&A with Francie Doolan, Board Director at Small Giants

At its core, the role of a Board is to guard the purpose of the organisation and to ensure that decisions are made with the best interests of stakeholders in mind. In this conversation with Board Director Francie Doolan, we look at why organisational governance needs to evolve to meet the challenges of our time. With more than 23 years’ experience reporting to and sitting on Boards (Governance, Finance, Audit, Risk, Investment) of ASX-listed, not-for-profit and for-purpose private companies across financial services, property, construction, mining, education, health, retail and arts and culture — Francie Doolan has seen it all.

Francie’s experience has led her to question the traditional approaches to governance and ask big questions about the role of the Board. Today, she advocates for what she calls “Next Economy Governance”,  an approach that centres stakeholder value creation and focuses on purpose. We speak to Francie about how she developed her interest and expertise in this area.

What drove your interest in governance and into Boardrooms?

I spent 15 years at PwC Australia and spent a lot of time reporting to audit committees and Boards. I was often curious about what was happening in Boardrooms, curious about the power they – mostly male directors – held, and I wondered how connected they really were to the impact of the decisions they made on the people they affect.

Working my way up the ranks, I would be told that decisions had been made, but without a lot of context as to how they came to that decision, which was often frustrating. I was always curious: how did the Board make that decision? And what else did they consider in making? I wanted a seat in that room to influence and shape the decisions that are made.

Over the past 23 years I've had the opportunity to see what I would consider to be some of the great strategic thinkers in a Boardroom. See how they solve problems, how they manage tensions between different voices. And I've learned a lot from observing. From what I’ve seen, Boards often don’t ask the questions that really need to be asked. I wanted to ask those questions.

What’s your personal philosophy and approach to governance?

Whether I’m in a governance role or a management role, I consciously centre my contribution around four words: focus, accountability, boundaries and love.

Focus, for me, is all about strategy and strategic priorities. Often when I’m doing due diligence on a Board, or being inducted onto a Board, one of the first things I notice is they are not clear on strategy: what business they’re in, and what business they’re not. The organisation is chasing opportunities and before you know it, they’re doing things that don’t align with their purpose because they are chasing funding (this happens particularly in not-for-profits). They end up developing programs to get funding, then lose the funding and end up still operating the program rather than meeting the need that was originally at the organisation’s core. We need to ask, What are the strategic priorities? What’s in, what’s out, and why? We need to learn how to stay focused on the purpose, and how to avoid doing too many things.

Once you agree on what’s in and what’s out of the strategy, it’s about accountability. How do we hold the management team accountable for delivering what they said they would and in the right time frames? Just as importantly, we need to hold the Board accountable to create real value for the management team, not just create more work for them. Boundaries are very much about where one role starts and another role ends. What is the role of the Director, what is the role of the Board, what is the role of the management or leadership team? And what are your financial boundaries?

Love is something I started thinking about when I joined Small Giants. Good stakeholder governance is built on relational thinking. We approach it by asking where are you at? What do you need? How can I or we help? And how do we rise together as a team and organisation? It makes me constantly reflect on how I am showing up, and it’s been a hard journey at times to receive feedback but ultimately knowing how I affect others means I have greater ability to show up in a way that is the most supportive of the team, and therefore the organisational purpose. We have to be aware of how we influence others and do what we can to ensure the softer voices in a boardroom are given the chance to be heard. I also think we need to think more about the relationship with the people in the Board, and the people in the organisations. More Board members need to be walking the floors and interacting with the team. It's actually really important. I spend time working in the office every week and interacting with our staff. It brings so much more information to the table. It also brings more colour to the Board decks, which are often positively skewed.

How does this approach intersect with Next Economy Governance?

Next Economy Governance is grounded in relational thinking. It’s shifting perspective from authoritarian to a more integrated approach of, “How can the Board, and we as individual Board Directors, help this organisation and its team achieve its purpose and impact goals?"

We explore how you can lift the quality and rigour of governance and strategy, without breaking relationships. This is about deep listening and learning both the discipline and skill of seeing things from multiple perspectives and meeting stakeholders where they are. From this position, grounded in empathy, you can help stakeholders think about things from a new perspective.

Next Economy Governance isn’t about moving away from traditional governance practice. Managing fiduciary and legal obligations are fundamental, but we also recognise that for our global community to enact the systems change we urgently need Board Directors who are capable of influencing Boards in a way that supports the wellbeing and progress of our communities and environment. This type of influencing takes a different level of consciousness and self-awareness.

Small Giants Academy has just released its Next Economy Governance program. Who is this program for?

The Next Economy Governance program is for those Board Directors who are searching for a different approach, and are ready to do the work to take their own practice and that of their Board into a future that demands more than traditional governance.

Click here to learn more about our Next Economy Governance course.

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