Author Spotlight: Marc Stigter

Marc Stigter

Marc Stigter

Marc Stigter is an international strategist calling for a radical rethink of the three critical areas in which he specialises: strategy, culture and governance. He is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne and an Associate Director at Melbourne Business School. Marc was a Shell Country Chairman in the Middle East and worked for other blue chip companies around the world. He earned a PhD at Lancaster University Management School (UK) and also earned three Master’s degrees. Marc is the author, together with Sir Cary Cooper, of Boards That Dare (2018) and Solving the Strategy Delusion (2015).

Author Spotlight Q&A – Marc Stigter

Your latest book Boards That Dare offers actionable solutions to help board members move away from outmoded thinking and practices. In today’s fast-changing world, what should boards be focusing on in order to become future-proof?

I would argue that the world is not only changing faster but also in ways that are difficult for most boards to predict and comprehend, let alone influence. The world is being fashioned into something altogether new. And the amount, level and magnitude of change has accelerated to the point where we have gone from a difference of degree to a difference of kind. Undoubtedly, a difference of kind therefore demands a difference of ability and attitude from today’s boards in order to become future-proof.

With everything changing so rapidly and radically, most directors we interviewed actually realise that they themselves must also evolve swiftly. Boards understand they must reassess their own thinking and practices more critically and frequently. But in practice, we found that boards often don’t know how – or don’t dare – to challenge their own shortcomings. I hope that our book will help boards with reassessing their own ability, understanding and courage, so that they can lead their organisations enduringly in – what I think – is one of the most transformational times in human history.

During your career as an international strategist, what were the triggers that ultimately influenced you to write this book?

A trigger for writing this book has been my observation that many boards struggle to capitalise on the forces of transformation shaping our future. Boards are often too busy focusing on their rear-view mirror and not enough on scanning the road ahead. They’re busy protecting business-as-usual but aren’t focusing enough on creating future value through transformation and innovation.

Today’s mainstream governance paradigm has not been designed with transformation in mind and is not well suited to the ambitions of companies wanting to seriously undertake transformational activities as part of their strategies. Again, today’s governance paradigm is fundamentally about ‘protecting’ rather than ‘creating’. Such a philosophy leads in turn to governance practices that are mainly focused on monitoring and managing risks rather than on seizing transformation opportunities. I believe there is an opportunity for a radical paradigm shift for boards that dare.

What are the most common mistakes you see boards making, and why do you think they continue to make them?

Besides holding on to business-as-usual, there is a persistent misconception that boards should be driven primarily by shareholder value. Clearly you can’t dismiss maximizing value for shareholders, but increasingly boards will be put under pressure to reframe value and care for a wider range of audiences.

Another observation is that boards should demonstrate more strategic leadership. We see an opportunity for boards to deepen and broaden their engagement in strategy beyond the traditional review-and-approve practice. Boards must engage throughout the whole strategy process, which includes – controversially – scrutinizing implementation. With everything changing so rapidly and radically, boards should also ensure that insights are collected continuously through strategic sensing. We recommend that boards take control of their own information needs. We found that most boards depend far too much on management for their information as well as the ‘rationale’ behind key decisions. As a result, directors find it difficult to verify information, furnish multiple perspectives and gather new insights from different sources.

In our book, we address additional common mistakes but the underlying reasons for all can be traced back to boards not challenging shortcomings in their own ability, understanding, attitude and courage.

With your international background and the travel you do for your work, have you noticed any striking cultural differences between boards?

Yes, what I have noticed is that social and cultural norms characteristic to each of the countries that I visit obviously impact on the board cultures within these countries. But this is well researched and published and is reflected in the diverse governance models around the world. Regardless of governance model, in Boards That Dare we highlight how boards can create a future-proofing culture in relation to their being, their ability, their understanding, their desire, and … their courage!

Order your copy of Boards That Dare from Bloomsbury here: