Weeknotes w/c 26 April 2021 — s2 — Life at the Board level

Building new Board Teams

This week I have been hearing a consistent theme from new Board members. Very different individuals who sit on different Boards— it should be noted. It seems a broad theme. I have even noticed it happening in me.

So this big trend? Its that new Board members have found it harder to get going effectively since lockdown and moving to a virtual-only environment.

Less extroverted or less confident new Board members are reporting making less of a contribution than they would have liked, or feeling a bit of a “spare part”. More outgoing folk seem to report it harder to get to grips with the technical areas of the business, feeling frustrated at knowing the names and places as well as they might expect several months in. Either way, new Board member seem to find it harder to make their mark.

I don’t think this is unique to Board members by the way. But it is particularly acute around the board table. It has a number of potential risk factors that make it hard to hit the ground running such as :

  • the meeting once a month (or less)

Also, Boards may have struggled to move online last year. There is still a risk that chairs, who have mostly been recruited to lead in person, may not be fully skilled in holding effective online meetings. Fourteen months in, I hope this adaptation risk should have diminished, but it can’t yet be completely ruled out.

So what can we do?

This past year teaches us that the quality of induction has been absolutely critical to joining a virtual board. You don’t get to “learn on the job” in the same way as we might have risked in the past. Nonetheless, I think there is still much value in time-honoured techniques such as offering buddying systems or sending people on courses to ensure they are technically up to speed. Hopefully, your organisation is already able to provide that sort of thing.

But I would argue there are three other things that organisations should be considering.

1 — Awareness.

Be highly sensitive to that barrier. Take plenty of feedback from new folk both in meeting to give them voice. Seek feedback afterwards, to see if any tweaks to the way issues were handled or if further insight may be required to aid decision making. If you like, consider it an induction period of 12–18 months, not just a meeting or two.

2 — Give the organisation a human face

A lot can be achieved by giving board members access to talk to other board members in virtual coffee sessions, or the opportunities to meet with the key people doing the day to day. It need not be a highly formalised process. But an opportunity to see people other than the CEO, or fellow board members in a more relaxed guise can make a huge difference. Its worth going to schedule a bit of that I think.

3 — Find ways to work out in the open

Many organisations have intranets now. And in lockdown, have developed methods of cascading across organisations — weekly business updates, short videos etc. Whilst you don’t want to overwhelm Board members, its worth thinking about how you can be open with existing material and share with the Board. If there are already punchy headlines or accessible material (eg a 3 minute monthly round up video) then share it with the Board. I’ve experienced that kind of sharing really valuable and helps build the connection. I have definitely been able to operate more effectively as an NED as a result!

In other news, it was jolly nice to have my first drink of post — lockdown — very welcome times! Maybe more Boards will be meeting in person soon. (Possibly not in a pub).

A small libation in the sun (Ty Mawr pub — my photo)

Book of the week

This week I have been reading “No filter — the inside story of Instagram” by Sarah Frier. Picked up on a bit of a whim, it was a fascinating read. So what did I learn? Firstly how young and green all the protagonists of the tech giants were on conception. And some of the mistakes they made. Eye watering. And what a small clique they all were and how similar they all were. Explains something about a subsequent lack of diversity. But the final point I’d make was around how the organisations’ fit the personal values and thought processes of the founders. What a terrible responsibility that is. The founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, had a vision of the world just sharing beautiful things. And look how it has developed — into a forum of narcissism and insecurity, as well as the beauty. And as for Facebook…well…

Experienced Chief Finance Officer -track record in Welsh social housing and third sector. Chartered Accountant (FCA BFP). Views my own - my space for blogging.