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A Better Organisation Starts With The Chair


Tuesday, 25th November 2014 at 11:22 am
Xavier Smerdon, Journalist
To reinvigorate and change an organisation it is the chair that can have the most profound influence, writes adviser and researcher Conrad Liveris.

Tuesday, 25th November 2014
at 11:22 am
Xavier Smerdon, Journalist


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A Better Organisation Starts With The Chair
Tuesday, 25th November 2014 at 11:22 am

To reinvigorate and change an organisation it is the chair that can have the most profound influence, writes adviser and researcher Conrad Liveris.

Lately I have been spending more and more time with CEOs and chairs.

Discussing ways to make organisations more effective can be a challenge for the third sector. People are usually driven by two different factors: passion or ambition.

Neither is more right than the other, because both are committed to being as good as they can.

In the 2014 NFP Governance and Performance Study conducted by the Australian Institute of Company Directors, it was recognised that central to organisational development was the need for renewal and for boards to innovate and collaborate with executive staff.

There are very high expectations placed on chairs to facilitate this, and rightly so. It was found that 1/5 of directors and 29 per cent of executives expect more from the convenor.

CEOs deserved to be challenged and inspired by their board. With 53 per cent of executives wanting more highly skilled directors and 40 [er cent citing lacking levels of governance skill, there's an issue here.

We either work in an organisation or know of an organisation that is stagnating.

Slowing and, at times, decaying operations can be sad to see. The gift for effort and chutzpah in years gone by cannot be ceasing to exist can it? For some, it is.

Boards and CEOs must be conscious of prospective issues – that's their job. Across all fields of operations there's an expectation that chairs, and to a lesser extent directors, are senior in age and experience.

Why? Sure, there's a level of skill that is necessary to manage a board and fulfil the duties at hand. Chairs are still ‘pale, male and stale’.

To reinvigorate and change an organisation it is the chair that can have the most profound influence.

The qualifications and competencies of leadership do not know barriers such as age, gender or ethnicity – they do not discriminate.

When I first started being the chair of an organisation, I learned a lot very quickly. That is common, irrespective of the industry or sector.

I don't have too much interaction with operational staff, yet I am considered in my communication with them. I want to be part of organisations that share my values and recognise the contributions of many. We have that now, partly due to our executive and partly due to me keeping it on the table.

For chairs and recruiters, to find the best you need to go beyond your own network.

Do we truly believe that we are using our resources as best we can? With such few women in leadership, even in the highly feminised Not for Profit sector, I think that is questionable at best. Until our boards and executives are more reflective of society at large and organisational stakeholders, it will still be an issue.

Only recently I was speaking with an executive who is often asked to sit on boards or refer people. We agreed that if a board lacks in diversity we would be hard-pushed to join it.

This is not uncommon for younger people to consider this. The onus lies with Chairs to invigorate and inspire organisations to be ambitious and inclusive.

As captains of organisational standards, operations must be able to look to the chair and see energy, vision and ambition. If the vast majority of chairs are older white men are they really achieving this?

About the author: Conrad Liveris is an advocate, adviser and researcher – primarily on economics and policy questions. He is currently advising organisations on diversity and inclusion with a focus on gender and generations. He researches for Australian and global academic institutions on diversity in the economy, including on corporate governance and superannuation. Additionally, Leveris is building a portfolio of board-level positions where he can support increases in productivity and innovation

He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and international and is undertaking a Master’s degree in commerce and human resources.


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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