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Dr Jo Cribb: Keeping on top of her game

Feb 14 2019

Spotlight: Inspiring Directors​



Keeping up with her children, staying fit, and maintaining her garden are some of Dr Jo Cribb’s passions. But she is probably more known to most people as the former chief executive of the Ministry for Women or as the seasoned director who sits on the board of a number of organisations. We recently spoke with Dr Cribb who facilitates the Institute of Directors’ ‘Working with the Board’ course. She talked to us about her governance experience, what she thinks is the biggest challenge facing directors and how she keeps herself on top of her game. 


1. Tell us about a difficult governance experience you had, how you handled it and what you learned from it.

Early in my governance career I was on the board of an organisation that delivered a number of social services. One of the services was long established and tightly managed by its founder.  The service needed to change in order to be effective but the founder was entrenched in the status quo.  Supporting management in what was a difficult and emotional change management process was a challenge.  I learned early on just how much governance is a 'human' process and effective governance is built on strong and honest relationships.

2.  Tell us about the boards you are currently a part of and the work these organisations do.

I am in the Royal New Zealand Navy Board as an independent member. We work with the Navy executive team to plan for 'the Navy after next'. I’m on the board of Literacy Aotearoa, the largest provider of adult literacy education in the country; New Zealand Media Council, which provides the public with an independent forum for resolving complaints involving newspapers, magazines, their websites and other digital media; and the Wellington Women’s Homeless Trust which provides safe accommodation for homeless women. I am also the Chair of the Institute of Public Administration of New Zealand (IPANZ) which works to promote and help develop an innovative public sector by providing independent thought leadership and training. 

3.  What skills do you think are important for directors to have given the changing context of governance (eg. technological disruptions, future of work, sustainability issues)?

Much work has been done to identify the skills needed of leaders in the 21st century - they include curiosity, the ability to collaborate and communicate, and be creative.  These skills are just as important for governors as other leaders.

4.  What do you think is the biggest challenge for directors?

Maintaining the ability to see beyond the 'echo chamber' that might be building around board discussions or their own practice. 

5.  What are you passionate about outside work? (hobbies, interests)

I enjoy the challenge of keeping up with my children, staying fit, keeping my garden under control, my baking tins full, reading (widely) and travel (as much as possible).

Dr Jo Cribb

6.  How do you measure your success as a director/governance practitioner?

I am outcome-focused.  For me, it is all about the success of the organisation, and the effectiveness of the board in generating value.  I look for feedback about how I can personally be more effective as a board member, and how the board can add more value.

7.   How do you keep yourself on top of your game?

Investing in wide networks where I am constantly exposed to new ideas and emerging trends.  For example, I do not have a technology background but actively seek information about what is happening in AI and machine learning as these are, and will continue to, impact on our organisations. 

8.   What do you think is the value of being a member of the IoD?

IoD is a diverse network that provides many opportunities to interact with those who don't have the same background and experience as I do.  It provides an efficient opportunity to constantly test my assumptions.

9.   Who inspires you?

The emerging leaders of social enterprises who are creating new models of organisations including new models of governance and are challenging norms about work, business and social justice. 

10.  What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a director?

Always be prepared, always question. 

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