The other day I was the facilitator for a group of directors discussing the issue of “inclusivity”. The conversation touched not unsurprisingly on how, when and how much to engage with stakeholders. The discussions also put sustainability issues at the heart of inclusivity. In other words, when making decisions, include all the issues likely to be relevant to or affected by your business, as well as include all the people likely to be relevant to or affected by your business.
What delighted me was a story told by one of the directors present. He was highlighting how difficult it is to know ‘how much’ is enough: inclusivity can go on forever and a day, and Boards need to draw a line somewhere, and make a decision. He shared a wonderful story about how when making big decisions, native North American elders apparently consider three things:
1. The past 7 generations
2. The next 7 generations
3. The present generation
A myriad things struck me about how this might pertain to governance. Firstly, I don’t know of too many companies that have been around for 7 generations (if we take a generation to be about 25 years). But the essence of this is to take the wisdom of the past (Boards?) and consider it in our current decisions. It’s “don’t reinvent the wheel if we don’t need to” kind of thinking. Learn from our directorial ancestors! This also got me thinking about how decisions are minuted, but not necessarily the wisdom and discussions behind them. However, that’s another story…..
The next 7 generations talks firmly to intergenerational equity and sustainability. While we cannot possibly predict every single possible permutation of our decisions, we have lots of information and we do know, quite categorically, some of the pro’s and con’s of the current business model. Be considerate of these effects when making decisions today.
The current generation: note, not current chief, nor current ruling tribe, nor current group of elders – the current generation. How the decisions we make, and what we choose to do now, affects others, now. This also moderates the ‘ancient wisdom’ of the past 7 generations, taking into account the current context and reality.
How might our governance processes change, and the outcomes of our decisions change, if we choose to be a 15-Generation director?