How Responsibilities Are Changing For UK's Governance Professionals

Lauren Mcmenemy
6 min read

From increasing risk and rapid change to improved communications and information sharing throughout the organization, governance in the UK is sure in a state of flux right now. It’s important to share successes (and failures) and to hear from others in this all-important role so that, as a profession, we can grow and learn.

That was the idea as some of the best and brightest UK governance professionals gathered recently at Diligent’s Modern Governance Roadshow in London to discuss the current and future state of governance and compliance in the country. The panel, chaired by Diligent SVP and Managing Director Liam Healy, featured three governance professionals from very different walks of life: Philippa Walther-Caine of charity Guide Dogs for the Blind; Anthony Corriette from BBC Studios; and Jude Moore of Britvic, a relatively young PLC that went public around 15 years ago.

The London Modern Governance Roadshow was part of a global series of events held by Diligent to bring the industry together to share learnings.

Panel members and the wider audience agreed that governance in the UK is changing rapidly, impacting the risk involved in modern operations, but that the emerging governance technology scene is helping to mitigate that risk. This modern governance technology also helps to improve communications among stakeholders both internal and external, breaking down silos and making governance operations more efficient and streamlined.

Let’s look in a little more depth at the emerging themes from the Modern Governance Roadshow in London.

The General Counsel’s changing role is impacting risk management

Commercial pressures are accelerating at great speed, and we’re in an unprecedented period of global change. This is putting pressure on the General Counsel and their team, who sit as the gatekeepers in the organization. The General Counsel’s role today is to bring home the message that good governance is not just about compliance, but about how the organization behaves. Some at the event described this as “an exquisitely uncomfortable place.”

And yet, in this environment of rapid global change, traditional big corporates are still lumbering along. “Big tankers of organizations” take time to do things, and it’s important that the General Counsel’s team not be seen as “the brakes” in the business, instead working to move the business forward. Those in charge of governance and compliance cannot be seen as the “no” brigade, but instead should be the office of “yes, but show me how and why we should.” Modern governance is about doing the right thing and being able to defend it with data.

This, of course, is an approach fraught with risk. Organizations are increasingly trying to use governance tools as an enabler for creating competitive advantage. There’s also a squeeze to ensure operations across the board are effective and efficient. Trustees and stakeholders must agree with how the organization is run, as they are increasingly taking on personal risk by being involved.

Then there’s the growing interest in sustainability and environmental impact, and the associated regulations and consumer pressures. There are risks and issues around the whole supply chain. As one panelist said: “Sustainability has always been there, but we are having to really step up our game now, to be more proactive. We’ve gone from making the business obey the rules to the ones driving change.”

Communications pathways are key to modern governance

In these conditions, it’s important to get the right information to the right people, and to have the right amount of time to make the right decisions for the organization. This means the business must keep all entity data up to date so that strategic decisions can be made based on real-time information, and that means the governance and compliance team must effectively communicate and build engagement with the wider business to ensure the right practices are in place.

The key to building engagement is to have a great governance team that engages with the board to pay attention to this stuff, but that also provides the framework, training, evidence and examples to show that it can and does work to grow businesses and help leaders to make better business decisions.

It will come as no surprise that attendees at the Modern Governance Roadshow believe that getting internal engagement is about building relationships. But how, and with whom? Directors, non-executive directors (NEDs) and colleagues across the business must be indoctrinated into the ways of good governance.

The corporate secretary’s office cannot sit in a glass box that people are frightened to enter. Those responsible for governance and compliance must be out in the business and make themselves approachable. They need to be the people who help, not hinder, growth. It’s about straddling the line between gatekeeper and enabler; about driving the role as the link between the board, executive and SLT, and the wider business.

Modern governance professionals achieve this straddler’s role through better communication and better sharing of information. This comes in the way of routine briefings with NEDs away from the boardroom, giving them the space to ask silly questions, and by recognizing that some stakeholders will need more handholding than others.

Using technology to build engagement with the organization

Lack of resources continues to be an issue, though. Panelists at the Modern Governance Roadshow showed that with a good framework and process around the small stuff, you can still achieve good governance practices with a small team.

To keep everything lean, it’s important to look into the automation of routine processes. By harnessing technology, and building resilience and business continuity, the compliance and governance teams can find the time to do things like benchmarking, talking to peers and bringing information to the board in a structured way for them to make good decisions.

Some use technology for helping deals to go through or when recruiting a director. Others use it to facilitate more urgent decisions when board meetings are infrequent. Governance technology, such as entity management systems and board portals, can help to build efficiency as well as increasing the robustness of research. Senior managers can be resistant to modernization and digitization, but the experience of those in the room was that, once they started, those same resisters would be “horrified” to go back to paper.

The Governance Cloud and the modern compliance professional

Many organizations still lag in the digitization process, but there is an increasing number of governance and compliance teams instilling automation and cloud-based central repositories for the corporate record. The next phase for them is to get to the point where eSignatures are acceptable to auditors and lawyers to increase efficiency and security even more.

Diligent believes that digitization is imperative for modern governance, which is why we facilitated these discussions in cities across the world. We built the integrated Governance Cloud to make governance and compliance more streamlined and more efficient, while also increasing security and risk mitigation for the modern corporation. By integrating Diligent EntitiesDiligent Boards and a secure file-sharing platform – and with integration with CSC for registered agent services, too – we aim to enable organizations to work with an all-in-one governance ecosystem to achieve best-in-class operations.

Get in touch and request a demo to see how Diligent’s technology can help your organization to take the next step into modern governance practices.

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Lauren McMenemy

Lauren has been writing about the world of compliance and governance for half a decade, but she's been a journalist and copywriter for longer '' that's 20 years spent writing for media, for agencies and for businesses across sectors including finance, professional services, healthcare, technology, energy and entertainment. As an editorial strategist, she has set the tone for national and multinational companies, and loves nothing more than getting to the heart of great stories. An Aussie in London for 13 years, and married to a true English eccentric.