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Russell is a professional company director. His board experience includes Chairman ASX listed Tesserent, board member ASX listed Powerhouse Ventures, Wunderman Bienalto, the Victorian Government Purchasing Board and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. He is an experienced director, entrepreneur and innovator, with expertise in technology, strategic & business planning and an extensive knowledge of government. Russell was appointed a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors in 2012. His expertise has been recognised by SmartCompany as one of Australia's 12 Most Influential People in Tech and as an Honorary Member of the Australian Computer Society.
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The Resolution

Why a company can't grow faster than its directors

When you really think about it, a company can’t sustainably grow faster than the rate at which the board grows its own capability. If you don’t grow the capacity of the board and its directors, every company will reach a stage where its growth will be hamstrung.

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When you really think about it, a company can’t sustainably grow faster than the rate at which the board grows its own capability. If you don’t grow the capacity of the board and its directors, every company will reach a stage where its growth will be hamstrung.

With strong directors committed to personal growth, a company can innovate and grow. But a board that fails to grow with their executive and market opportunity will throttle the organisation.

One of the most important roles of the board is to look beyond the horizons of the executive. Over my career I was Managing Director of my three technology companies. In these roles I was under huge pressure to keep things moving day to day. I wanted to grow. I had ideas about how to innovate and respond to change. But I didn’t have time to do everything myself.

The expertise of my directors was the reason we could keep growing and innovating. They knew what questions I needed to ask next. They were my eyes and ears on the future of the market. They had time to think long-term, while I drove things operationally.

A great board works with the executive team to fill blind spots in the future. But to do this well requires time and perspective to deeply understand the long-term future of the industry. Fundamentally it requires a board that's committed to growing their capacity and capability.

So how do you increase the growth rate of the board?

1. A board must challenge itself

A board has to think about unforeseen opportunities, so how do you do that? Like every high-performance team, a board needs to train to stay fit and healthy. It’s important to go through a range of foresight and scenario exercises regularly.

The aim of the exercise should always to be to work through a broad range of scenarios that challenge you individually and as a board. Doing this regularly makes sure you’re you're fit and healthy, and are able to then respond to what’s happening in the competitive environment.

A board is the same as any other high performance team. Failing to train and prepare through a full range of scenarios will lead to diminished performance on the field of battle.

2. Directors must take responsibility for their own growth

As professional company directors, we add value through our ability to bring diverse perspectives. The fact we don’t spend every day in the company is a strength, not a weakness.

But for the diversity of our perspectives to remain a strength, all directors must continue to grow their knowledge. It’s not enough to start with a diverse knowledge and skill base. The rate of change today means that these perspectives become rapidly outdated unless you actively work on growing your knowledge and skill base.

Unlike in a corporate environment, there’s no one pushing you to do professional development. There’s no one place you can go to learn about what you’ll need to know next year.

Professional growth as a company director is the ultimate self-directed learning task. And it’s one of our most important professional obligations – because as soon as the diversity of our perspectives and skills are outdated, we no longer have any place as a professional company director.

3. Every board must be prepared to regularly regenerate

Every decision a board makes is the result of its director mix. Those individuals are also the decision-making ceiling. When decisions are made, they reflect the capability of the directors. A decision can only be as good as the mix of directors who make it.

Boards need to be clear about what they’re good at – right now, and in 2 or 3 years’ time. It’s vital to recognise gaps in expertise, and to anticipate future gaps.

When those gaps appear, it’s often not enough to just increase the knowledge of existing directors. A board that really wants to grow has to be prepared to say “the people we have are not enough”. You must be willing to go out and find new directors to fill those gaps, and to bring on fresh blood.

Personal development is vital to the growth of a board. The board should support the evolution of its directors, but it also needs the courage to say, “we’re missing someone,” or, “we need fresh perspective.”

Typically a board will stagnate if it relies on the same people to make decisions in a dramatically different market. And if a board stagnates, the company stagnates.

A board should never be a burden

Without the support of an evolving board, a company will stop growing. If the board and its individual directors don’t grow, it will quickly become a burden. Every director needs to take personal responsibility in making sure this doesn’t happen.

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