Governance 2021: The Next Chapter - My three key takeaways

In this article Victoria Penrice, CGIUKI President discusses the key takeaways she gained from this year's virtual conference.

This week, we held our second virtual annual conference since the start of the pandemic. The wide-ranging programme showed just what a broad and varied role governance professionals have. Spread across three days, ‘Governance 2021’ brought together a plethora of subject matter experts to talk about topics as varied as artificial intelligence, audit, the environment, diversity, psychology, regulation, risk and tax …the list goes on.

What all of these topics have in common is that they are all elements that come into play in the governance of organisations, and they are all areas that are essential to the role of the governance professionals. As the trusted strategic adviser to the board, one who must understand the whole organisation, this role has become ever more varied and complex.

Technical knowledge has always been important, and we have always been expected to stay on top of changes to regulation and best practices, but much of our work is also down to softer skills. The fact that governance professionals need to be persuasive, strong, resilient and reliable came across clearly during the conference.Personally, I am pleased that the emotional intelligence side of the role is getting the recognition that it deserves. These are skills that will outlast automation.

Delegates were asked to consider their three takeaways from the conference. Although it was hard to narrow these down, here are mine:

Firstly, governance professionals need to identify and articulate the purpose of their organisation and ensure that it has the right structure and tools to deliver on this. We are still faced with the disruption of the pandemic, including the loss of lives, but people have maintained their core values and organisations need to reflect these. Indeed, there has been a renewed interest in social justice, reflected not only in movements such as Black Lives Matter but also in steps taken to encourage greater inclusiveness and belonging in the workplace. This should result in stronger, kinder organisations that are better corporate citizens.

Secondly, technology is with us, and it is here to stay. Whilst we are looking forward to holding events such as the annual conference in person again as soon as we can, we have all learnt the benefits of using technology in the workplace, from board papers to virtual meetings to the growth of artificial intelligence. The governance professional has a key role to play in ensuring technology is used wisely, with proper transparency, control and accessibility to enable people to have confidence in business and in business systems.

And thirdly, the conference really highlighted the importance of resilience. Risk is a fundamental part of what governance professionals do, and they need to understand the risks to their businesses, understand the changing landscape in which they are operating and develop the skills, stamina and flexibility to respond accordingly. Personal resilience is as important as business resilience, and we must take time to invest in ourselves so that we can deliver well for the organisations that we serve and, ultimately, society.

Governance professionals have a busy year ahead in this respect, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) currently consulting on restoring trust in audit and corporate governance, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) on the future of the AGM and the Financial Conduct Authority on major changes to the primary markets. Indeed, the Institute’s Policy team and many of our members are engaged with all of these important areas of governance, and it was great to hear from Eoin Parker, Director of Business Frameworks at BEIS, just how much BEIS values its relationship with the Institute and the support that it gives, sentiments echoed by Sir Jonathan Thompson of the FRC. We may be busy in 2021, but now is the perfect time to help shape the legislation and governance landscape of the future.

Next year’s annual conference will be at the Excel Centre in London on 5 and 6 July 2022. We look forward to seeing you in person then.

Victoria Penrice, President, The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland

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