Meet Sonya Beyers, founding director of Governance by Design

5 min read
Apr 27, 2023 9:59:41 AM

BoardPro is proud to introduce Sonya Beyers, a governance specialist focusing on legal, advisory and education services. Beyers is the founding director of Governance by Design, which helps organisations reframe their understandings of governance to achieve optimal performance. Founded in 2015, Governance by Design is committed to offering businesses unique solutions tailored to their leadership, team and goal-based needs. Their belief that "[w]hile the legal duties underpinning governance are black and white, applying and implementing effective leadership and decision-making in order to maximise performance and success, isn't," guides their work.

Beyers is all about collaboration with clients, working to meet them where they are and give "each client the distinct attention they need." With a background in law – Beyers is able to easily tackle the gauntlet of legal and constitutional governance issues whilst understanding the human side of governance. She has served on numerous Boards herself and is currently a Non-Executive Director for Southern Cross Care (Tas) Inc. and IES College.

We spoke to Beyers about her work to realign Boards and leadership, helping companies overhaul their governance practices and flourish. "With a practised and compassionate eye, [Beyers works to] identify the gaps in your governance, processes and legal frameworks, and the clear strategies and methodologies needed to redefine these and the executive-board relationship" – the go-to professional for all our pressing governance questions.

Q: What factors within an organisation create an environment that fosters good governance practices?

Leadership begins at the top. How an organisation operates is a direct reflection of the example being set by the Board. Governance is no exception.
An optimal Board environment is founded on strong relationships between Directors and between Directors and Chair that exhibit transparency, trust and accountability. This provides the foundation for sound decision-making and clarity on what is within its responsibility, capability and capacity and what falls outside and therefore rests with the Executive.

A Board that consistently demonstrates this standard of conduct sends a clear message to the Executive, which flows through to every level of the organisation.

Q: What are your top tips for practising good governance within an organisation, both at inception and once established?
At inception, a Board is not unlike a new employee in some respects. There is a natural 'settling in' phase during which it's necessary to give Directors an opportunity to build relationships and trust amongst themselves and separately but relatedly with the Executive. It is necessary for the Chair and CEO to also get a few runs on the board' (pardon the pun). 
They must, however, bring some skills and knowledge to the table immediately, such as an in-depth understanding of the industry or sector the organisation operates in and a willingness to work within existing governance architecture over the short term so that any changes they wish to make are done with the benefit of experience, and do not disrupt compliance requirements and/or business effectiveness. 

Q: What changes do you see shaping the governance industry currently? What three emerging trends would you advise companies to be most mindful of?

Boards today are charged with more responsibility for more complex matters than ever before. They must be proactive, forward-thinking leaders, not just figureheads, and all members must actively contribute.
It is assumed that Boards have the knowledge and insights necessary to make sound decisions and, if not, that they will seek out expertise from beyond the Boardroom to bridge the knowledge gap. 
An area to watch here is advisory boards. An advisory board can optimise Board performance and decision-making by doing some of the 'leg work', whilst ultimate control and responsibility remain with the governance board. This strategy is currently being implemented in the Australian aged care industry.
Societal shifts are also driving change in the Boardroom. Boards must be transparent and attuned to community sentiment. As the driving force behind a stronger and more transparent marketplace, institutional investors are keeping Boards accountable here, especially in Australia, where they hold significant power in our small jurisdiction.

Q: How can emotions help companies to restructure the relationships within their leadership framework?
Creating space for healthy dialogue, self-expression, and acknowledgement of all perspectives in the Boardroom is a powerful investment. It is a cornerstone of what it means to lead from the top.
Sometimes along the road to C-suite and Directorship, we find our emotions challenged or rejected, as though this valuable aspect of our humanity is no longer an asset but rather a liability.
However, it's essential to recognise that Board and Executive are subject to the same social pressures as the organisations they lead. They are constantly dealing with complexity, which naturally evokes emotions, and sometimes there will be differences of opinion.
How we embrace our emotions to work through complexity is what counts.
In the words of Harvard psychologist Susan David "when people are allowed to feel their emotional truth, engagement, creativity and innovation flourish".

Q: How can Boards and executives align themselves to effectively lead their organisation? What is the ideal power balance in this relationship? What steps can they take to update their operational framework?
The Board sets the tone from the top. It is their mandate to set the frame by which the Executive and staff carry out day-to-day operations, and from this place, be 'noses in, hands out', stepping in only when necessary to correct the course. 
Good news is bad news that travels fast - so before the organisation gets off course, the Board must ensure that it has created an environment of psychological safety, one which encourages the Executive to bring issues forward openly and transparently. The Board must then respond quickly with improvements to the framework and ensure it remains fit for purpose.
At the heart of a well-aligned Board and Executive team is a strong relationship between the Chair and CEO, where the power balance is one of collaboration with remit - that is, we are all on the same team, and should have a shared vision of enterprise success. This can be challenging to get right, as the ultimate responsibility sits with the Board to appoint and, when necessary, remove the CEO. However, at all times, the CEO should remain accountable to the Board.

Q: In what ways can companies balance growth and governance? What does effective governance architecture look like?
An effective governance architecture is one which supports leadership performance and is tailored to the unique needs of the organisation. It provides a clear framework within which the Chair and Directors can steer their organisation towards its goals and objectives, harnessing the skills and wisdom of members to inform good decision-making. It should also be attuned to the needs of stakeholders.
It's important to recognise that growth often precedes governance. As there is no room for a 'one size fits all' approach, it is necessary to consider what a fit-for-purpose governance architecture means for each organisation. Ultimately, this should support the delivery of the organisation's overall strategy. 

Q: As a BoardPro user/partner, please share why BoardPro's software is such a valuable tool for Boards and organisations
BoardPro drives efficiencies in meeting processes to support the Board's priority of focusing on enterprise success. BoardPro's functionality also empowers the Executive to focus its time on implementing strategic matters rather than Board-related activities.

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