Business

Boardroom is only as good as its non-executive directors

Company boards should be both diverse and inclusive in their composition – and NEDs have a huge role to play in that
Gordon Milligan

NEVER underestimate the value of a strong non-executive director (NED).

Consider some of the best performing companies or organisations that you know, those operating at the very top of their game, and I guarantee each of them will have the benefit of a boardroom containing talented NEDs.

The very best NEDs bring a creative contribution to the table, providing independent oversight while constructively challenging the executive directors.

This is all to enable good governance, allowing entrepreneurs and business leaders to avoid the pitfalls that could put them and their businesses, at commercial or reputational risk.

A criticism often levelled at some under-performing organisations, however, is that they operate in silos, without any meaningful external engagement.

Such an inward looking approach creates echo chambers that are unhealthy and place the future existence of organisations at risk.

It’s the very reason we advocate boards being both diverse and inclusive in their composition – and NEDs have a huge role to play in that.

It’s not about just turning up to the quarterly meeting. A good NED brings independent counsel, a broad perspective, a diversity of viewpoints an opinions and access to their own networks.

By making this important contribution, NEDs not only see to the proper running of companies but, in turn, improve the experience of its employees and help foster a more prosperous economy on a wider scale.

As someone who essentially is an outsider, NEDs main contributory factor could be considered their objectivity which gives them a clear and more objective view of external factors that may impact the business, than those working on the inside.

They can use their role, therefore, to provide constructive criticism when considering the objectives and plans of executive directors or monitoring overall performance.

Communication is also key, and companies can greatly benefit from outside contacts and opinions. An important function for NEDs, therefore, is helping to connect the business and board with networks of potentially useful people and organisations.

It’s just one of the reasons why we deliver our NED Forum, which provides a series of networking events that give NEDs at companies from across Northern Ireland the opportunity to meet together and learn best practice from one another in a social setting.

We are also seeing many NEDs – or those hoping to take up board positions in the future – undertaking professional development courses with the IoD, determined that they will have the very best foundation to bring forward to the company they serve.

The best businesses know that good governance is not a box-ticking exercise, and so do the best NEDs. The value they bring to organisations across the sectoral spectrum is enormous.

After all, the boardroom is only as good as its non-executive directors.

Gordon Milligan is chair at the Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland

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