Board Matters podcast: "The direction of travel" with Dr. Peter Stevens

By Institute of Directors
30 Aug 2022
read time
16 min to listen
Dr. Peter Stevens CMInstD

“We don’t have perfect vision. We don’t have a perfect view of the future, and black swan events come in like COVID, but if you’ve got a good purpose, that’s important,” says Peter Stevens, Chief Executive of GS1.

Peter has been on a number of boards across the education sector, and not for profits and says having a clear idea of where you’re going as a board is important, as well as hiring the right Chief executive to lead that organisation.

In attendance at a recent IoD advanced directors course, Peter was in a group of three where there was strong consensus around this idea of direction and purpose, but within it there also needs to be room for flexibility.

“If you’ve got celestial navigation, you’re wanting to make sure you’re keeping on course,” he says.

Peter says looking to the future is important for boards.

Reporting to the board is part of addressing where the company or organisation has been.

“It’s about holding management accountable for what they have promised to do, or were asked to do. That’s looking in the rear vision mirror.”

He says he has seen boards become fixated on the reporting where it is almost like a forensic analysis of what has happened, rather than looking forward.

But if all is going well, he says reporting should sit at the end of the board agenda, which means the board can focus on the substantial issues including the forward-looking decision making that needs to be done right at the top.

“It’s important to be front-loaded,” he says.

An example he uses is a recent experience where he went tramping with a group at Mount Aspiring National Park.

“We know that when you go tramping, things can go astray…we’ve lost the track, and ended up having to camp on a snow platform on a very chilly night, and then continue onto our destination the next day,” he says. 

But while the group had a purpose - a direction of travel - Peter says having that clarity provided the purpose, but also being flexible around the direction of travel meant they could find their way around obstacles and see room where improvements could be made, and the same goes for boards.

Listen to "The direction of travel"


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