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When Governance goes digital

What position does Governance occupy on the corporate website?

If we think for a second about the origin of the word “governance” and the concepts that its etymology recalls (government, rule, administration, command) we immediately spot a mismatch, an archaic sense of establishment and autocratic power that no longer tallies with the way leadership and management are conceived these days (read this: “Is Your Leadership Style Right for the Digital Age?” Wharton, University of Pennsylvania).

Nonetheless, Governance is Governance. Whilst on listed company websites you may come across some alternative wordings to “About us” such as “Who we are”, “Our Company” or simply “Group”, or you may have to click on “Our Commitment”, “Citizenship” or “Our culture” rather than “CSR”, you can be sure to always find good old “Governance” somewhere or, in the most talkative websites, “Corporate Governance”.

WHAT POSITION DOES GOVERNANCE OCCUPY ON THE CORPORATE WEBSITE?

Unlike Investor Relations, Our Business or Media, Governance (or Corporate Governance) can be found at different levels of the content map:

  1. It can be one of the top items and enjoy the same dignity as About us, Business, IR, Media and Careers. There are many arguments supporting this choice, especially for complex organisations who decide to explain how the controlling, auditing and supervisory entities manage the company at all levels. See how articulated a Governance section can be by visiting ENI or the new Unicredit Group website.
  2. It can be downgraded to a second level. In this case, listed companies may find it strategically appropriate to place it: a) either in the About us area (see Roche) - b) or in the Investors area (see Air Liquide)
  3. There are also cases where Corporate Governance, as in Bayer, is split or shared between About us (About Bayer) and Investor Relations (Bayer/IR)

Where Governance is located might seem irrelevant, however, different locations convey different messages:

  • case 1 is saying: “Governance is a top priority in our organisation, it involves many resources and by showing you how articulated our system is you can better understand how we run the company in a reliable, efficient and safe way”
  • case 2a, when in the About us section: “Governance is a topic interconnected with the presentation of the group, its values, its history, its strategies, its business model. It addresses all our stakeholders, not just investors”.
  • In case 2b, when in the IR section, it becomes an element of the “why you should invest in us” narrative: “we are solidly driven, transparent, not a risky investment, we have no conflicts of interest, shareholders are in good hands”
  • In case 3: “whatever door you open, I want you to have a focus on management, committees and their responsibilities”

Governance within the corporate menù

One of the reasons why communicators have been faced with different options for presenting the management structure and the decision process, is that Governance, like Corporate Social Responsibility, is one of those cross topics  that is (or should be) embedded and integrated in all forms of strategic communication.

As Corporate Governance describes how the various bodies and committees control business, assess accounts, monitor performance and processes, mitigate reputational damages, prevent risks and manage strategic developments, or, in other words, how the company survives and flourishes, we would expect its principles, mechanisms and activities to be placed and explained in every compartment of the corporate website:

Governance integrated view

What I am suggesting here is that the next step for digital Governance is to move towards a more integrated view.
If Corporate Governance is not just a set of rules but a living body with daily on-going activities , it makes sense to show its behaviour and impact on business developments (new products, new markets, partnerships, etc..), on internal organisation (personnel, platforms, systems, etc..) or on communication management (communication plans regarding investors, media, social channels, etc..). So, for example, instead of conceiving the Media area only as a container for press releases and multimedia material, why not also explain the policies and the governance behind information disclosure or social media?

We are not there yet.

However, we must admit that Governance is not an easy topic to be translated into digital content for many reasons:

  • it is often regarded as a matter of compliance and obligations and, as a consequence, even its fundamental rules and strategic impact, that should be clearly explained to visitors, are left within documents and pdfs;
  • the content sources (corporate governance report, codes, national and international regulations, etc..) available to those who are in charge of the content management of the website are complicated documents that are hard to digest, manage and manipulate;
  • it is a difficult topic to communicate with a more engaging story-telling approach.

This is the reason why on corporate websites we have a very fragmented panorama of how companies translate Governance into digital depending on: amount of information, quality of information, effort put into simplifying concepts in a few sentences and capacity in visualising all the correlations that build the complicated Corporate Governance framework. 

The following chart is not the outcome of a research but simply what we have been observing by benchmarking hundreds of corporate websites during the last five years:

Corporate Governance digital communication landscape

*i.e.: Kingfisher 

WHAT ARE THE TAKEAWAYS?

  • Where you position Governance in the site map is a key strategic message
  • Make an effort to illustrate the system and the interactions between committees (Executive, Audit, Nomination, Remuneration, Ethics, Safety-Health-Environment, Disclosures, Risk, etc.. )
  • Show that Governance is not just a code or a chart by reporting what the Committees did and how their activities changed the course of company life
  • Read between the lines of corporate governance documents: you will find content much more valuable than you thought
  • Link and connect Governance-related elements on all the other website sections
  • In the end, Governance is made by people and the people on the Board usually have great stories behind them (why not a short video rather than posy head shots?)