How to stay up-to-date on board governance best practices

6 min read
May 16, 2024 1:22:56 PM

The rate of change and the quantum of new information being produced daily can induce anxiety and make the fear of keeping up a real, nearly debilitating, feeling. 

As board members, these feelings are all too common. At least, they are for me. 

Even though I struggle with FOKU (the fear of keeping up), I’ve developed some techniques that help me to focus on the things that are important, allow my ongoing learning to not become all-consuming, and works with my learning style and my preferences (and constraints) for financial investment. 

Let’s unpack these one by one.

Focus on the things that are important 

When EVERYTHING feels important, how do you discern what’s important for you, in your situation, at this point in time? My go-to is to consider what my board is facing currently and into the near future (for this purpose my horizon is about 12-months). I also consider the broader governance and economic context of that same time horizon; what are the hot topics and what can impact the organisation and our governance of it?

This perspective gives me cues on areas of my governance knowledge and understanding that need further development or refreshment. 

It’s here that your list could blow out to include *all the things*, but that’s not a great way to keep focused on what’s important to you, here and now. This is where you need to widen your vision and remember that you’re part of a team – a board. There are other people around your board table who know – or can learn – about things that you don’t know or have capacity to learn (because you’re learning about the things that they don’t have capacity to learn). Dividing and conquering your board’s shared learning in this way can effectively and efficiently build the collective knowledge of the board for the betterment of the organisation and its culture. To further build this collective knowledge, each board member can provide a 15-minute update on their topic of interest at each board meeting throughout the year (i.e. one update per board meeting). 

Returning to your list of learning topics for the year, these approaches can help you to narrow in on two to four topics for you to focus on over a 12-month period. This allows you to go deeper, enabling more than a cursory understanding of the topic. 

This is how I develop my personal 12-month board curriculum. Because my topic load isn’t overwhelmed with *everything* that’s 'important', I can add in another topic or two that is interesting to me (like behavioural corporate governance) or serves a personal motive (like how to be a great chair), yet are still contributing to growing my governance knowledge.  

Allow my ongoing learning to not become all-consuming

To me, sitting around all day everyday reading, listening, watching, and/or reflecting sounds very appealing. Unfortunately, it’s entirely impractical for those of us who need to make a living, manage a family, and have a life. 

We can’t always get to a half-day, full-day, or multi-day seminar. And not doing so does not make you less of a board member, regardless of how they want you to feel. There are simple ways to regularly squeeze in learning opportunities each day. These regular bursts of microlearning will build your knowledge base just as much as attending an in-person event.

My go-to on-the-go learning resources are podcasts, audiobooks, and videos (including recordings of live events or webinars). Podcasts and audiobooks give you the opportunity to learn while doing something where your hands are busy, but your mind is not so busy, such as folding laundry, cleaning, commuting, or exercising. Videos require a bit more concentration but are included here because you can watch (or listen) to them anywhere any time (such as BoardPro’s webinar library). 

This approach requires no more time to be found in your schedule; only a bit of forethought about setting up a podcast or audio book for those moments requiring less cognitive load.

lunch and learn for professional development

For those who may have a little more capacity and autonomy in their schedules, consider time blocking out an hour each week to commit to actively engaging with your selected topic(s). It doesn’t have to be a full hour block; 30 minutes twice a week will also work. These time blocks invite in the opportunity to read (a book or article or paper) or watch a webinar that has graphics or visuals that support the teaching. If serendipity is on your side, there may be an hour-long live webinar or function that you could attend that aligns with your focus learning areas.

Making time in your schedule will increase the likelihood of the learning to consistently happen. At least for most weeks. Sometimes life happens and you’ll have to lighten your load for a week or so. Coming back to a regularly scheduled appointment with yourself, to invest in your board career, will keep you growing without the overwhelm.

Work with my learning style and my preferences (and constraints) for financial investment

A more self-directed style of learning opens the opportunity of engaging with learning materials that suit your learning style. Books, articles, papers, and long-form essays for those who prefer to engage with text. Podcasts and audiobooks support auditory learning. And videos and webinars help both auditory and visual learners. And all of these styles of learning can be more engaging when you take your own notes (stored in a ‘learning log’ of some sort to enable future reference). 

I’ve found that my learning style is somewhat dictated by the topic. Some topics are better supported by visuals such as graphics, charts, and live demonstrations. And some are quite comprehensible purely through text. The key is finding what works for you and best helps your understanding of the topic.
When it comes to board and governance education, the not insignificant elephant in the room is the cost. The gravity of the director role seems to be an invitation to charge a lot for learning and education. This holds many of us back from financially investing into certain learning opportunities, because we simply can’t. But, as I mentioned, learning and growing your knowledge doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It will cost you time, but I’ve also shared some ideas to minimise that cost too. 

listening to an podcast

Many resources I’ve shared in this article are free or low-cost. Podcasts are free. Online articles are free. Books and audiobooks can be free through your local library (and using the Libby app). BoardPro’s webinar library and suite of resources are also free, and high quality. I’ve added my go-to resources below.

Although I’m a huge advocate for free learning resources, there is also value that comes from learning opportunities where you must make a financial investment. Invest what you can and where it makes sense to do so (refer to your personal annual curriculum and learning preferences to help decide).

The best way to learn is to teach others what you have learned. Bringing your new knowledge back to your board through a 15-minute download of the key points or through preparing a ‘cheat-sheet’ for your fellow board members will help to lift the capacity and value of your entire board. It spreads the load, minimises FOKU, and supports your organisation. What an awesome board that can do that! 

My go-to resources

In addition to BoardPro’s extensive webinar, article, and resource library, here are my hand-picked recommended resources for governance insights and inspiration:
Australian Institute of Company Directors resource library
CG TV by Conscious Governance
McKinsey & Company – Featured Insights and their Inside the Strategy Room Podcast 
The Savvy Director Blog
MinterEllison Governance News digest
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Get On Board Australia’s article and podcast library

Where do you get your insights and inspiration from? Write to me with yours and I can share them in a future article.


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