In their shoes:
Continuing our 'in their shoes' series, we sat down with Léanne Heerink, who works as Director of Corporate Governance.
As part of our 'in their shoes' series, we sat down with Léanne Heerink, who works as Director of Corporate Governance, Northern Territory Government Department of Education, Australia.
How would you describe your role as a governance professional?
My role has been quite varied during my career, which was partly driven by the sector and the organisation's culture. I have been fortunate to have worked for most of my career where there was a strong ethical culture with an accompanying appreciation for governance. My role has included advising the board and management on governance, compliance, privacy, ethics and whistleblower protection, risk management, corporate law and sustainability, conducting investigations, developing and implementing policy, drafting annual reports, overseeing shareholder/stakeholder communication.
I am so excited to have recently joined the Department of Education where there is a strong appetite for continuously improving governance measures and understanding how closely aligned that is to strategy. My role leads the design and implementation of the corporate governance framework to enable the effective delivery of the department’s strategic objectives. I provide strategic advice, support and coordination for the agency’s governance arrangements, ensuring proper flow of information in accordance with escalation and decision-making principles, act as the strategic secretariat to the Education Executive Board and the System Improvement Committee, building governance capability across the department and leading the governance review.
Would you say there’s a typical day in the life of a governance professional?
Well, no day is the same, and no day runs the way I planned it. Every role does contain some form of administrative burden (planning for board meetings, wrapping up those previous minutes, managing your inbox), so let’s acknowledge that and move on to the exciting and more rewarding work! I am enthused by the opportunity to make improvements, whether it is to implement policy changes, resolve stakeholder complaints, implement efficiency changes or, even better, implement new systems or procedures. Any prospect of legislative change relevant to my area, such as the recent changes to the Corporations Act relating to whistleblower protection, excites me immensely, from the consultation stage to the actual implementation.
In my current role, I am focussing on building on existing governance arrangements and establishing fit-for-purpose governance measures. This includes the development of the corporate governance framework, training members of governance groups, staff and secretariats to build capability, and designing a new governance review process. Boards love data, and my nighttime reading has recently been consumed by research into ways to demonstrate the value of corporate governance to the Board and the organisation, and planning a corporate governance metrics dashboard.
What do you think are the most important skills that you need as a governance professional?
In my governance role, I have always been a company secretary as well. I read an article many years ago by a South African governance professional likening a company secretary to a polymath. I could not have said it any better, as the company secretary requires diverse skills and knowledge, drawing on these skills to find tailored solutions to complex issues. Apart from the necessary technical skills, strong communication skills are essential as you will influence, negotiate, push, or stand back as the circumstance requires throughout your career. As the conscience of the organisation, strong ethics is non-negotiable.
This has been an interesting year for us all. How have you adapted in your role as a governance professional?
I have been fortunate that both organisations where I worked since the outbreak of the pandemic were, while significantly impacted, able to continue operations. While it has, and continue to be challenging, I do believe there are some big positives that came out of this challenging time that will affect the workplace in the long-term with organisations having become more agile, quicker decision-making, embracing technology, more innovative, accepting flexible work arrangements and being more attuned to the emotional well-being of employees.
Do you have any thoughts regarding what those coming into the profession should know?
I have had (and continue to have) a highly rewarding career and learnt so much along the way from my colleagues and the most respected business people and professionals around the globe! Know however, that it is not a glamorous role, and most governance roles (legal, risk management, compliance, privacy and company secretariat) are met by most boards with high appreciation, but little time. It is often a misunderstood role. Roll up your sleeves and find a way to make every second count, demonstrate the value that the function brings (this is my new passion!), and ensure you have support from your executives to support your role.
Governance cannot happen in isolation and is a highly collaborative process with each employee in the organisation having governance responsibilities.
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