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How “progressive” is your Board?

How “progressive” is your Board?

Progressive Boards.  The range of responses I receive when I say those two words is fascinating. Reactions range from:

  • “Is there such a thing?” (cynicism)
  • “Of course, all Boards are progressive.” (indignation)
  • “Which Boards are the most progressive?” (curiosity)
  • “Is the Board I sit on progressive?” (self-reflection)
  • “What could we do to be more progressive?” (practical)

Was your reaction one of these, or something different?

It brought me to thinking about what progressive means, exactly.  The words that came to mind are dynamic, open-minded, up-to-date, up-and-coming, enterprising, broad-minded, advanced, forward-looking, enlightened, modern and even avant garde, pioneering, leading-edge and experimental.  Interesting to reflect on how many of these adjectives might describe the Boards you know or sit on?

Can you afford not to be progressive?

And then I wonder if we can even afford for our Boards not to be progressive given what our industries are facing into. The speed of technological change is stretching our imaginations, disruptive forces are causing our operating models to shift more significantly and more frequently than ever, our customer and workforce expectations are putting new pressures on us as suppliers, partners and employers, and society is demanding we take greater care of our environment, people and social responsibilities – all while we rebuild the trust we’ve lost along the way.  If ever there was a time to be progressive, it is absolutely now.

These forces have huge implications for our workforces, particularly in businesses that rely on people for longer-term success.  Our people are the interface between us, our customers, the wider market and society.  What our people do, how they behave, the decisions they make, the words they say and how they say them, matters enormously – to our customers’ experience, our current and future performance, our reputation and trustworthiness.

So, if we don’t have our people equation right - in terms of their commitment, capabilities and connections so that they can deliver in new and engaging ways without distraction - then it might not matter how slick our operating model is, or how digitally-savvy our internal processes might be.

In my experience, there are three things that sets a progressive Board apart from those that focus more specifically on delivering near-term profit, performance and compliance on behalf of shareholders and authorities. They are: 1. longer-term value through people; 2. setting the tone for direction, behaviours, energy and pace; and 3. the desire for a positive people legacy.

Longer-term value through people

Boards that are progressive in the people-domain look forward, not only in the rear-vision mirror.  They seek to understand the “knocks, blocks and shocks” that fast-moving trends and disruptors will bring to the organisation.  They explore and anticipate what the workforce needs to be and do to mitigate the threats and take advantage of the opportunities - and how they need to be equipped, well in advance. They sponsor the priority actions needed to shape the commitment, capabilities and connections of the workforce to deliver in new ways, with new technologies, for new possibilities.

Set the tone for direction, behaviour, energy and pace

Progressive Boards realise that what they do and say, what they don’t, and what they walk past (either knowingly or unknowingly), sets the tone and sends waves (not just ripples) through the organisation.  

If we were to fast-forward video snippets of the inner workings of the Boards of 711, VW, our banks, Cricket Australia and perhaps some of the Boards you’re aware of, I’d imagine we might see some of the root causes of the damaging behaviour that has emerged.  If we looked at videos of the Boards of Nokia, Kodak, Grace Brothers or Blockbuster, it’s likely we’d see some of the reasons for their unfortunate demise.  What are the overt and covert signals being sent by the Boards you’re familiar with, about direction, behaviour, energy and pace?

Positive people legacy

And thirdly, progressive Boards typically take a more holistic view of people.  In their deliberations and decision-making, they don’t just see humans as cogs.  They consider them as sources of potential, creativity, innovation and growth, and ensure they are treated accordingly.  They confirm that people are being prepared for the future, no matter where they end up working.  In doing so, they benefit the organisation, their families, dependents and Australia’s economy. These Boards know that ensuring that people are being actively prepared to meet future challenges and do the best work of their lives, just makes good business sense. 

Reflecting on the Boards you know.. 

Reflecting on the Boards you know, what do you think might be shifted, adjusted or challenged to enable them to become more impactful and progressive, and so leave stronger people legacies for individuals, organisations and society? 

I’d love to continue this conversation with you to explore how your Board might take steps to becoming more progressive and people-savvy. Drop me a note at

Future Crafters