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The Changing Role of the CoSec – Navigating through Uncertain Times

We don’t need to tell you that change is inevitable – it is around us everywhere every day. Another fact is that change happens faster and faster all the time.

What does this require of us? Anthony D’Angelo believes that it requires us to “Become a student of change. It is the only thing that will remain constant.”

This is true wherever we find ourselves: at home, in society, and in the boardroom.

Keeping the Governance Ship Afloat

One of the roles that is tasked with keeping the governance ship afloat during often-turbulent times is that of the company secretary/secretariat – a role which is changing almost as rapidly as the environment that we are negotiating through.

If the role of governors is that of the ‘captain of the ship’ then one of the critical roles of the company secretary is that of navigator. The landscape that every company is navigating is changing like never before – with both the external and internal environments undergoing significant changes.

The Role of the Navigator

The navigator ensures that the ship’s captain has all the necessary information to make decisions about what to do next based on what is constant and what is changing as we move forward in time.

There are a few challenges that need to be navigated at the same time though.

The Changing Governance Landscape

The launch of ISO37000 – the first international standard related to the governance of organisations – has simplified the governance landscape somewhat by providing a set of clear benchmarks and thinking upon which to base a responsible and effective governance framework.

ISO37000 could create some challenges in the case where boards have not engaged in some of the critical conversations that it highlights. These include an in-depth understanding and carrying of the organisation’s purpose and values, clarity around the model of value generation beyond just financial value, and strategic engagement with stakeholders beyond just public relations.

The role of the company secretary (together with the board chairperson) would be to introduce these critical conversations, provide insights and material for the board to consider, and ensure that clarity around these themes can guide decision-making into the future.

Value-Generation Models

Internally, all organisations need to review, re-imagine where necessary and renew their business models, or models of value generation.

A critical role of the company secretary could be to once again assist the board in navigating the changing internal reporting challenge, and sometimes acting as a bridge between the executive and the board in considering how best to accurately reflect the company’s performance during these times of change. Once again, their role would be to highlight the necessary conversations and identify the critical questions that should be asked.

Corporate Reporting

These changes to the external and internal environment also impact the rapidly evolving world of corporate reporting. Just as companies were starting to effectively grapple with concepts of triple bottom line and integrated reporting, reporting standards and expectations have taken a further step forward with the emphasis on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and value reporting.

While much of this is an ongoing development of thinking, some is set to seriously challenge the role of governance and governing – and hence governors and their relationship with the companies that they govern. It is in this place that a good navigator can help identify what to focus on that is meaningful and ultimately in the best interests of the company.

Hone Your Skills

As a company secretary you might not have considered attending director training. These opportunities provide so much insight into the inner workings of a board and how to improve effectiveness and efficiencies – all aspects that will support you in your role.

Next time you see such an opportunity – whether about changing legislation, shareholder relations or dealing with a difficult chairman – be sure to attend and use the learnings to your advantage as a company secretary.