MBWA, Management By Wandering Around, is a well established method of being involved and present in organisations. The MBWA manager knows the people, the processes, and the purposes, and is able to act accordingly, from a position on informed authority that exceeds that of the desk bound hands off spreadsheet reader.
The Governance equivalent, GBWA, mirrors this approach, with an additional level of seeing the organisation from multiple stakeholders positions. Critically, being able to view and understand from the perspectives of the shareholders, the employees, the executives, and the wider community, up to and including the environmental and humanitarian implications of the company and its supply lines.
This is the opposite to Spreadsheet Governance, an over reliance on numbers, data, and departmental reports to the detriment of first hand awareness and people focused involvement.
Spreadsheet Governance risks omitting the people, and it’s the people that cause all the outcomes, especially the unpredictable ones. In increasingly automated and digitised process lines, it’s always the human junctions between processes where the failures and vulnerabilities occur. Spreadsheets can show a data based or numerative representation of what is happening. They frequently don’t show why it’s happening, especially when the cause is fundamentally a human factor.
When it comes to the potential for fraud, inefficiencies, and vulnerabilities within processes and systems, Spreadsheet Governance will provide little other than a false sense of security.
It’s seems common to read about high profile data breaches, and for the employees to claim ‘everyone knew there was a problem with security’. The same happens with claims of sexual harassment in a company, or racial inequality, or other institutional flaws that detract from efficiency on every level and breach compliance and legal requirements.
Good governance cannot be siloed, with an over emphasis on reports and data. This kind of approach will not pick up issues such as the organisations ‘personality’, the collective mentality, the management styles and cultures. These are the human factors that frequently go overlooked until such time as a major incident or impact occurs . A culture of internal competitiveness can easily cause dysfunction within and between departments. A toxic masculine culture can go undetected until it suddenly gives rise to a multitude of high profile departures and legal claims. A culture of volatile risk taking can create impressive spreadsheets, until the balance shifts and catastrophic losses are accrued. In order to be aware of culture, collective attitude, and system processes that expose risk, a practice of semi-structured GBWA should be adopted as part of the role.
GBWA will enable the company secretary to achieve and maintain a comprehensive and day-to-day dynamic overview of the organisation.
The Company Secretary will be able to familiarise themselves with the people and processes and by being present and visible provides a ‘neutral’ point of contact for people to express concerns to. An employee that knows there are vulnerabilities in a processing system may have already expressed concern to a manager who didn’t then follow through. It may have seemed trivial at the time, but the outcome of not fixing a small crack can be a huge hole in a balance sheet. The ‘Wandering Company Secretary’ is able to join the dots between departments and provide themselves with an overview picture of the organisation that will be unique, and uniquely valuable.
They’ll also be able to pick up on the culture and feeling of the workforce, and be able to act and make suggestions accordingly. It may be the culture of the board and the culture of the workforce are misaligned, or even becoming incompatible, it’s the awareness of these kind of disconnect issues that can be so valuable in a Governance role, and can only be achieved by an immersion across the spectrum of the company employees, from every level.
The very process of GBWA is reassuring, for everyone in the organisation. It demonstrates a collective responsibility, and that filters down, and upwards. It also makes the Company Secretary particularly valuable within a company, able to intervene in disputes, give opinion and guidance on any department or subject, and enables them to identify potential troublespots and vulnerabilities before they are problematically or damagingly exploited.
The ability to see the organisation through the eyes of multiple stakeholders, and to balance the interests of those stakeholders to the benefit of all and the detriment of none. Surely this is the artistry of the role. Go for a Wander.