Boards of today and tomorrow

Brian Walker


Agility is fundamental to leading a team through times of change.

Sandra E. Peterson

As businesses open and regrettably close, it does draw into focus the role of the board, both private and public.

It seems that the Executives are taking the brickbats (and bouquets) at various moments, however has the role of the board changed in recent times? Or does it need to change? And are these valid questions for today’s retailers?

I suspect so, as retail moves at breakneck speed, as technology and its respective iterations permeate our society in every imaginable way and consequentially consumer behaviour is radicalised in ways that many, if not most, retailers are candidly struggling to keep speed with.

If boards are charged with, amongst other topics, managing risk – why is the mantra for retailers today to make riskier decisions with far less margin for error?

What metrics does the modern retail board use to assess performance of a retailer? Is it the classic return on capital invested, sales ,margin or even market share, yet the majority of capital required to increase the relevance of today’s and tomorrow’s retailer simply wouldn’t use these metrics in isolation or in entirety to measure return ratios.

End to end integration, fulfilment, data mobility, social media conversion, the growth of retail communities, A.I, investment, are all topics for today’s board.

Let’s also consider what skill set is required in today’s retail organisation to fulfil these growing customer needs? And what are the skill sets of today’s modern board member to equally accommodate this change, provide overseeing, and governance and risk management?

“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,” so say the Australian Company Directors association.

This interpretation is very similar in citations from 1999 and 2017 and therein lies the point regarding as to whether boards and their current composition /structure and impact are as relevant.

This quotation from Sally Freeman ,Senior partner for KPMG as to the ongoing necessity for boards to add value and be agile is interesting and highly relevant.

“The board of tomorrow needs to be agile. It needs to be able to adapt to changing stakeholder moods, expectations and demands for greater transparency. To stay relevant, future boards will need to be able to change composition depending on the issue, disruption or opportunity presenting itself – and these are likely to change rapidly.”

The other factor to consider is time. The classic board and executive horizon is also being dismembered as classic performance criteria, dividend results and shareholder expectations drive the agenda, yet time acts is a different paradigm to many of these traditional parameters once again.

How does long term tenure and agility reconcile?

Traditional thinking, responses and actions provide us traditional results and outcomes when our customers move far faster .

Agility, speed, adaptation, evolving skills sets, we could easily be talking bout retailing as we do the board.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group, retail and consumer experts and the Australian elected member of the global retail expert’s alliance Ebeltoft Group. Brian can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or [email protected]

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