Corporate governance is not management
For many years, I have said that the major focus of business throughout the 20th century was professional management – new management theories, management schools, management consultants, and management gurus – whereas the focus for the 21st century would be governance. I think we can safely say that this has happened.
Unfortunately, in the process some people are now conflating the two quite different concepts: ‘management’ and ‘governance.’ There is talk about ‘the importance of governance in the NHS’ when the issue is mainly management. Even the UK government’s consultation on the green paper on the review of corporate governance (see Chris Mallin’s most recent blog) writes: ‘The purpose of corporate governance is to facilitate effective, entrepreneurial, and prudent management that can deliver the long-term success of a company.’
If ‘management’ and ‘governance.’ are used interchangeably, the fundamental distinction between the two is lost. The notion of management as a hierarchy is commonplace: the classical management pyramid showing a chief executive officer, or managing director, with overall managerial responsibility and the reporting relationships of the managers down the management hierarchy. Authority and responsibility are delegated downwards, with matching accountability expected upwards.
The board of directors seldom appears- because the board is not part of the management structure; nor is it a hierarchy. Each director has equal responsibility and similar duties and powers under the law. There is no executive ‘boss’ of a board. In a unitary board, that is a board with both executive and non-executive outside directors, the executive directors hold managerial roles in addition to their responsibilities as directors. As executives, they are employees of the company and employment laws apply. Directors, as such, are not employees and company laws apply. Executive directors, of course, wear two hats: and are subject to both company law and employment law.
In the two-tier board structure, the executive board consists entirely of executives and is responsible for management. The supervisory board consists entirely of outside members and is responsible for governance, including the hiring and firing of management.
In other words, management is responsible for running the business. The board is responsible for its governance, ensuring that the corporate strategy is appropriate and being achieved, that corporate policies are in place, overseeing management’s performance, and being accountable to investors and other legitimate stakeholders. Briefly, management runs the business; the board ensures that it is being well run and achieving is objectives. The concepts and the responsibilities of management and governance are quite different. To conflate the two invites confusion.
-Bob Tricker, 2017