Governing during disruptive times

October 17, 2015

I must admit that I am fascinated with our transition from the industrial to digital age so I was both pleased and intrigued to be invited to speak this Wednesday about its implications for governance in the nonprofit sector.

The latest technology always tends to steal the show  – it was the wonders of the steam engine during the industrial revolution and today it is the smartphone.  My interest lies more with the impact on people and relationships because the outcomes are not always what we might hope for – especially given the pace of change during the digital revolution.

John Kay writes about the 2008 financial crisis and how information technologies helped enable the replacement of personal banking relationships with anonymous market traders – with dire consequences for individuals and the global economy.  The financial crisis was at its roots an ethical betrayal at the governance level – a betrayal by those who were responsible for “other people’s money”.

Henry Mintzberg will also be speaking on Wednesday.  His message to re-balance society by strengthening the plural sector (civil society) will certainly be a welcome one and serve as inspiration to the nonprofit sector to seize opportunities – the theme of the conference – and stand up against the trends of growing income inequality and silencing of voices that is occurring around the world and in our communities.

What can nonprofit boards do – any board for that matter – to govern well during disruptive times?  Nothing new really – just good board culture.

I have served on many boards – both in the private, public and nonprofit sector.  Some do a good job (and still struggle).  Others do a poor job (and just struggle).  Never has it been more important for governance leaders to pay attention to the relationship among and between members of the board and management.  Building a strong team that demonstrates respect, even when fear is smashing down the door, that encourages engagement and new ways of thinking, and that never loses sight of their ethical responsibilities are the foundation of good board culture.

Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons