At Board Associates, we believe in the transformative power of strategic advisory boards. Our first-quarter advisory board meetings have yielded valuable insights in key areas such as corporate governance, financial management, leadership development, and strategic planning workshops. This piece aims to share these insights and provide actionable steps for business owners and leaders to enhance their performance.
Corporate Governance in Family Businesses: Rethinking Traditional Models
Matthew Dunstan, our founder and a respected scholar at QUT’s Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research, has uncovered surprising findings in corporate governance within family firms. His research, focusing on optimising governance for financial excellence, suggests that different family businesses may require distinct governance models. Key takeaways include:
- The Advantage of Informal Governance in Mature Firms: Mature family firms might benefit more from informal governance structures, challenging the usual push for formalisation.
- The Role of Corporate Governance in Young Firms: Younger firms appear to thrive under small, informal governance setups.
- CEO and Board Dynamics: A balance between CEO involvement and board independence is crucial for financial success in family-run businesses.
Action for Owners: Family business owners are encouraged to reassess their governance structures in light of these findings. For further guidance, explore our articles on family business and governance, and consider participating in our ongoing research. You can register your interest by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Financial Management and Hidden Cash Reserves
In one of our portfolio companies, we’ve driven a remarkable six-fold growth over the last few years. Last quarter, however, we encountered an unexpected financial challenge. Despite intentionally moderating growth to allow profits to flow into the cash reserves, the company’s cash balance unexpectedly declined. The causes of the problem were not evident in standard financial reports, so we undertook an in-depth financial analysis working with one of our partners.
The analysis went beyond the typical data of profit & loss statements and cash flow forecasts. Instead, we focused on three additional but seldom used financial metrics that proved pivotal in diagnosing the root causes affecting the company’s cash flow dynamics. These were the working capital absorption rate, the movement of working capital and the movement of debt on the balance sheet. This analysis revealed that subtle changes in the balance between profits, cash, working capital, equity and debt compounded to create a situation where the company was profit-rich but cash-poor.
This case serves as an essential lesson for business owners, particularly highlighting the need for a comprehensive financial health check during periods of growth or turbulence. It underscores the importance of looking beyond surface-level financial reports and considering a broader spectrum of financial metrics.
Action for Owners: If your cash at bank balance is declining, you should consider undertaking a more detailed financial analysis of the causes and, more importantly, create a new set of financial management guidelines to protect the business. Our team at Board Associates can help.
A Team-Led Approach to Setting Strategy
At Board Associates, we have pioneered a transformative approach called ‘Quick Wins’ workshops, expertly guided by our People and Culture Specialist, Belinda Straughn Winks. These workshops engage all staff members in focused discussions, applying qualitative research methods such as thematic analysis to transform direct feedback into actionable data.
This bottom-up approach to strategy uniquely uncovers critical business issues and solutions as perceived by the team. It’s a novel way of shaping strategic imperatives, enhancing workplace culture, productivity, and staff retention, while uncovering hidden management blind spots. (Read more)
Action for Owners: Leaders have an opportunity to define and deliver new, tangible benefits for the business and to do so in a way that brings staff together and empowers them. If you feel there is more potential in your team, a Quick Wins workshop is a fast and affordable way to create immediate value.
The Importance of Depth in the “Senior Management Bench”
It’s not uncommon for business owners to find themselves rolling up their sleeves and diving back into day-to-day operations to support their management team. While such involvement can offer immediate operational support, it often comes at the cost of neglecting the strategic work essential for long-term growth. Owners frequently find themselves caught in a cycle of ‘two steps forward, one step backward’, where progress is hampered by the constant need to put out fires.
This year, we have observed several instances where businesses struggled to maintain momentum due to the owners’ frequent need to step into operational roles. In these cases, lacking a solid and capable management team meant critical strategic initiatives were sidelined.
Forward-Thinking Solution: Building depth on the senior management bench is vital. This not only alleviates the burden on the business owner, allowing them to focus on strategic growth but also ensures the business is equipped to handle challenges effectively without always relying on the owner.
Long-Term Benefits: Building your bench of senior management talent might seem difficult or expensive, but the long-term gains in efficiency and strategic growth are invaluable. It is also critical for the future valuation of your business.
Action for Owners: Ask yourself this question: If I stepped away from the business now, could the team continue to run it as I would? If the answer is no, you must implement actions to build your senior management bench. Board Associates has experience in executive coaching, mentoring and leadership development programs that may be able to assist.
Strategic Planning Clarity: Focusing on What Truly Matters
In business strategy, clarity and focus are not only vital, they are liberating. A prime example is one of our client companies, currently valued at $7 million. The owner has set a bold aspiration to elevate the business’s value to $40 million within a few years. Achieving such an ambitious goal is no small feat and requires a razor-sharp focus on key growth drivers. Through several rounds of strategic planning, we have identified the four critical imperatives essential to realise this objective.
These four imperatives have become our cornerstone and helped elevate the conversations around the advisory board. With this clarity, every advisory board meeting is now centred around these “four jobs to be done”. Furthermore, this clarity extends to the incentivisation of the CEO – their reward structures are tailored to drive performance specifically in these four areas. This alignment ensures that the CEO’s efforts directly contribute to the business’s strategic objectives.
This experience raises important questions for all business leaders:
- Do you have a clearly defined intent for your business?
- Have you identified the critical “jobs to get done”?
- Is your team aligned around these objectives?
A clear strategic focus and aligning your team around specific goals is fundamental to driving substantial growth. It simplifies decision-making and streamlines efforts across the organisation, setting the stage for accelerated growth and achievement of ambitious targets.
Action for Owners: What are the three or four things your company must deliver to drive strategic growth? If you can’t answer this question, don’t worry – most leaders can’t, but that’s the opportunity. Board Associates’ Strategic Planning Workshops may be able to assist.
In conclusion, these insights from our Q1 advisory board meetings underscore the breadth of expertise and support available at Board Associates. For more detailed exploration of these topics or to engage with our advisory services, contact us at email@example.com for tailored advice and solutions.
Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Chairman of a number of family and private enterprises, Matthew is the founder of Board Associates and specialises in innovation and strategic marketing.