A technology powered revolution

When you think about the role of governance in helping to foster constructive and critical debate about the strategy and operations of an organisation; ensuring the effective delivery of the organisational purpose; and bolstering organisational integrity – it seems blindingly obvious that good governance is a prerequisite of success in today’s fast-changing world.

Organisational ethics are on the front line, and being responsive to shifts in circumstance, context and culture is vital. The dangers of ‘group think’ have been thrown into sharp relief, and highlighted the important role outside voices can bring.

Given all this, it is surprising to think about how little has changed in the world of governance in recent years. The much lauded checks and balances are largely meant to be provided through independent non-executive directors and diverse boards. Some more progressive organisations have structured processes for introducing the views of a broader group of stakeholders, or employees but these tend to be few and far between. The formality of the function – and the fact that they’re remunerated for it – can also undermine their efficacy.

Meanwhile, there has been a technology powered revolution which has led to transparent mass-scale participation and engagement in multiple spheres of life. From crowdfunding, to open source innovation, to user-group fuelled innovation processes – new mechanisms are erupting for people from all walks of life to make their views heard.

The recent Thomas Cook crisis – and corporate turnaround – showed, public opinion can not only hold sway, but also lead to a result that the vast majority would agree is more apt and equitable than the initial corporate alternative.

What better way to foster debate about the direction of a company, or keep tabs on the extent to which it is operating in the public interest than by letting 1,000 voices be heard? Could ‘crowd’ governance be a part of an innovative new 21st Century governance solution?

With all of the tools available it could be as simple as introducing a standardised online presence www.companyname.governance or #companynamegov and starting a conversation. The less formal the procedure and the less the organisation attempts to retain executive control the richer the results.

Take a company like RBS with its millions of customers, and which, for the moment at least, is in large part publicly owned – it could set out a serious strategic business question such as what to do with its international businesses, provide the facts and invite the public to voice their views – see what the crowd thinks. It would not have to do follow the outcome, because the value would be in the process itself – for the company in hearing diverse views, and for the public in having the chance to be engaged in a real and valuable way.

Our political system is opening itself up through social media and technology. Voting apps let constituents tell MPs which way they what side they would like them to take on particular issues, constituency websites open up discussion and debate.

Senior management might shiver at the idea of the crowd being unleashed on their business, the bolder and better parts of themselves might appreciate the value it can bring. If an organisation ultimately wants the public at large to feel they are well governed, making them part of the governance process is surely a decent place to start.

Giles Gibbons is Founder and CEO of Good Business

Learn more about how new technological innovation is changing the business world at The ICSA Technology Conference 2015.

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