President's Column: Evaluating success

NZPA - Chris Cahill | Thu December 1st, 2016

In the lead-up to my election as Association President, and in the few weeks since, I have been asked by various media how I will evaluate success in this job.

Fair enough. It is the sort of question many of us ask ourselves when we change jobs, take on new responsibilities or are promoted through the ranks. My answer is that by the time I leave, our Association will be stronger than it was when I arrived as I fully intend to add the sort of value that is critical to the success of our combined future.

A fundamental challenge is widening our representative base at committee level and ensuring it flows through our office holders and right into our boardroom.

Our Association needs to be strong, relevant to its membership and credible as the lead commentator on law and order issues in New Zealand. To do that, we must reflect our diverse community.

In practice, that means we need to encourage more women, Maori, Pasifika and other minority groups to become involved in our committees.

As a middle-aged white male in a suit, I admit there’s an irony in the challenge, but it is one I am determined to meet. Already, I have been confronted on the makeup of our board – not the quality, but the lack of diversity, and that does merit a response.

I recently spent two days learning about managing and running boards of directors. Much of that training was about identifying risks and blockages, and remembering that the key responsibility is to the business the board is responsible for.

As we worked through a variety of case studies, it became clear that when things go wrong it is often because boards fail to perceive the wider implications of an issue. The Rugby Union’s recent woes come to mind. In that case, a glaring absence of women in decisionmaking roles clearly contributed to an inability to address behaviour that was not acceptable to half the country’s population (and likely most of the other half too).

The value of diversity lies in the myriad perspectives that can be brought to an issue, not just when a crisis hits, but in the identification before the crisis.

In mid-November I spent time with 20 of our representatives completing an office holders course in Wellington and I was encouraged to see that nine of the reps were women. I spoke to the group about the need for committees to be representative of our members, and for a variety of people to be encouraged to put themselves forward for office.

Diversity will invigorate and enhance our organisation. To achieve it we must identify the blockages that discourage or prevent women, Maori and minorities from being involved. These may be internal barriers, such as a workload that prevents volunteering on top of a day job; they could be external barriers, such as juggling childcare time against attending a committee meeting.

Diversity is not easy. If it were, we would have it already.

My call is in no way a criticism of the outstanding contribution our current representatives make. They, too, are part of our diversity. I appreciate their input and encourage them to cultivate the “talent pipelines” that will attract, develop and mentor the next generation of leaders within the Association.

Together we will be able to look back at our contributions and know we have done our best to leave the Association in a better place.

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