Boards hoping for the best rather than providing the challenge to make things happen

Written by Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas FCMI - 08 December 2014

While directors should focus on strategic direction and not get involved in operational matters they need to provide challenge and ensure their strategies and policies are implemented, according to Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of Developing Directors. Speaking in Dubai at the 3rd annual Board of Directors conference he suggested: “Too often boards agree policies and plans and then sit back and hope for the best.”

The CMI Ambassador recognised: “The distinction between direction and management is a vital one, and a good manager may not have the potential to become an effective director and vice versa. However, while seeking not to interfere in areas delegated to management directors need to remember their responsibilities. They are still accountable.”

Coulson-Thomas emphasised that “board business is not a game of pass the parcel. Boards need to ensure that activities delegated to a chief executive and management team are effectively discharged. They need to question, challenge and make sure that implementation occurs and that things happen according to agreed guidelines and policies. There is little point agreeing plans, goals and objectives and assembling relevant resources, and then standing back without enquiring if the means are in place to apply the capabilities of a company to what it is setting out to do.”

The CMI Ambassador pointed out that: “Corporate capabilities are costs and only of value if they can be harnessed and applied when and wherever required to pursue an agreed vision and achieve desired aims. Boards need to probe and question whether people – and especially those in the front-line – have the help and support they need to do what is required to compete and win.”

He continues: “In an era of insecurity and uncertainty formulating detailed plans and standing back is no longer enough. Traditional planning may need to be replaced and/or complemented by intelligent steering. Affordable and flexible performance support can enable important work-groups to stay current, vital and competitive. It can also enable the simultaneous delivery of multiple benefits to different stakeholders to the advantage of companies, people and the environment.”

The new leadership and governance which Coulson-Thomas advocates in his recent reports Talent Management 2 and Transforming Knowledge Management involves a shift of emphasis in the boardroom from planning to intelligent steering and providing more questioning and challenge in the areas of implementation and ensuring the people of an organisation are properly supported.

CMI Ambassador Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of Developing Directors, a handbook for building an effective boardroom team, and over 60 other books and reports is a member of the business school team at the University of Greenwich and holds a portfolio of private, public and voluntary sector appointments. He has held UK public appointments at national and local level and can be contacted via Developing Directors, Talent Management 2 and Transforming Knowledge Management can be obtained from:

Coulson-Thomas' presentation on “what's cooking in the boardroom agenda?” was delivered to the 3rd Annual Board of Directors 2014 conference held at The Address Dubai Marina, Dubai, UAE.

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas FCMI, an experienced chairman of award winning companies and vision holder of successful transformation programmes holds a portfolio of corporate, public and academic appointments. He has helped companies in over 40 countries to improve director, board and corporate performance. In addition to chairing corporate boards he chairs the group audit and risk committee of United Learning, chairs the statutory Education and Registration Standards Committee of the General Osteopathic Council of which he is a lay member, is a member of the business school team at the University of Greenwich, Director-General of IOD India for UK and Europe and leader of the OLJ's international governance initiative. Colin is the author of over 60 books and reports, including ‘Transforming Knowledge Management’, ‘Talent Management 2', ‘Transforming Public Services’ , 'Winning Companies; Winning People' and ‘Developing Directors’. Since being the world's first professor of corporate transformation he has held professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, India and China. He was educated at the LSE, the London Business School and the Universities of Aston, Chicago, South Africa and Southern California. A Change Agent and Transformation Leader Award winner, Colin is a fellow of seven chartered bodies and secured first place prizes in the final examinations of three professions. He can be contacted at His latest books are available from

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