Inclusive leadership in the boardroom – March 2018

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Inclusive leadership in the boardroom – March 2018

Christine de Largy, Chair UK Board Practice, Harvey Nash welcomed guests last week at Harvey Nash’s informal roundtable brunch held at the Royal Society of Medicine, opening with some key questions for discussion; How do we get the best out of diversity of thought in the boardroom and encourage the right type of friction? What does good look like?

Diversity itself has been on the agenda for quite some time and is an area that, generally speaking, boards appear fairly comfortable in addressing; it feels a manageable area with more of a ‘tick-box’ approach in looking at gender, ethnicity and sensitive characteristics categories. However, diversity of thought leaves boards feeling far less comfortable…

Do Chair’s recruit like-minded board members conscious that it is their job to chorale and encourage decisions in the boardroom – A task perhaps more easily achieved with a semi-aligned Board who have similar experiences, thus avoiding the more challenging and complex job that comes with varying perspectives, backgrounds, start points and the like – diversity of thought. In some ways, having diversity of thought in the Boardroom puts a greater onus on the Chair to be more than just a ‘meeting controller’. The Chair needs to set the tone as to how their Board is run, and on occasion perhaps be more ‘interventionist’ than they might otherwise be.

A Chair with diversity of thought around their Boardroom needs to stand apart, encouraging the various opinions, treating all with equal value and ensuring that, as well as the opinions being available, they are ‘heard’ by the members. Additionally, more time has to be spent outside of the Boardroom in building trust and communicating; not every decision that a Board takes has to be made quickly and so taking the time to encourage and reflect on the varying diverse views could be beneficial in helping the Board come to consensus and move forward.

As well as this a Board should be viewed as a team, and as found in any fully functioning team is a balanced skill set. An example shared was around cross over functions, whereby a specialist committee, i.e Finance Committee although should have a number of specialist members – Accountants, it should not be chaired by a specialist. This can be really rich as it forces the Board out of one perspective. This coupled with necessary and positively managed challenge, can only be advantageous.

Challenge / friction / conflict can be positive in keeping the pace and energy levels of a Board meeting up and in helping Boards to move things forward. The issue comes if that challenge / friction / conflict isn’t appropriately managed and thus moves to hostility.

Conflict in the Boardroom isn’t necessarily confined to whether there are different and diverse members on a Board, it can also very easily occur in a group of individuals from the same functional background, i.e Accountants, Lawyers, Marketers.

At some point all companies / organisations, as well as their Boards, are on the curve of their evolutional development. At times of change, with new members joining, the Chair and existing Board members need to work that bit harder to integrate new members. Alongside this, the existing members also need to be open to the naturally occurring change of dynamics that comes with a new member. Patience and resilience are key both in bringing existing members along and also in integrating new members. Appropriate challenge management is undoubtedly required to govern the new and fresh perspective brought by new members.

One of the suggested ways to positively onboard a new member is to induct them over a period of 6/9 months, during which time they are allocated to a wider executive level team enabling them to gain an understanding of the culture and history of the organisation, important knowledge required for the roles of both advisory and governance. Having said that new Board members are equally responsible for taking the time to build relations with their new colleagues outside of the Boardroom, familiarising themselves with the appropriate business units and individuals therein.

Other equally import traits identified for consideration inside the Boardroom are EQ and an individual’s interactions with others’ as well as having an understanding of what motivates them to do and say what they do – a people leadership challenge. A suggestion of how to understand this is to invite a Board Assessment or ‘Board Evolution’ as it should perhaps be known going forward..!

Using the term ‘evolution’ resonated around the table, in particular with one guest whose current Board has shifted from having a historical focus to a forward thinking and strategic focus. This has encouraged healthier discussions around the Board table and in looking forward.

Equally it is often the case that when there are changes to a Board there are also changes taking place on the Executive team and it is particularly important at such times for the CEO and Chair to appropriately manage the relationship between the two committees, ensuring that the dynamic of the two doesn’t go out of balance.

Another question posed around the table was Who makes a good NED?’ Assumptions are perhaps that a good candidate is highly experienced; someone who has had a stellar career; CFO or CEO but does this mean that we’re losing opportunities to source and appoint more diverse candidates? Equally is having multiple NED appointments an issue and should there be a maximum number for any one individual? Encouraging a maximum number of appointments would by default result in more diversity. The feeling around the table was a maximum of 3 appointments.

Should there be worker representation on Boards? A refreshing idea, but one dependent on not only the quality of the worker elected but also on having a clear framework in place. One effective example of this shared was to have a group of individuals proposed, all of whom in turn go through a nominations process, therefore safeguarding the selection of the best individual for the position.

Being experienced more and more in the UK is the role of governance and compliance and meeting regulatory / legislation requirements, which in the example given expends around 25% of this particular public sector Board’s time in meeting the multiple regulators relevant for the organisation. This then begs the questions; is this an effective use of the Board’s time and how much freedom and flexibility do they have?

Based on the conversation around the table an observation was made that many of the different ‘roads’ discussed seem to lead back to the same overall subject – behaviour; of the Chair, the Executive Committee and of the Board members themselves. But what constitutes good behaviour in the Boardroom?

An example of good behaviour remarked on from the group was where the Chair invited feedback from the Non-Executives at the end of each Board meeting; how the meeting had progressed, was an effective outcome achieved, feedback for the Executive members about their performance in the meeting, or how well they were supported – all part of Board development. This led onto a discussion around defining key ‘buzz’ words such as professionalism and effectiveness at a behaviour level to ensure an aligned understanding.

With an abundance of suggestions and experiences shared around the table, the essence of which we hope to have captured in the above, we would like to thank each of you for joining us. Should you wish to further comment on the captured discussion we would encourage and invite you to do so.

Event Details

When: March 14, 2018 - March 14, 2018

Where: The Royal Society of Medicine London

Contact: Board brunch or 0044 20 7314 2011