As an employee, did you ever dream about joining your company’s board, reversing the tables, and telling your boss how to run the show? Two employees at the UK firm Capita tried it – and the experiment was deemed a great success.
In March 2019, Will Serle, the chief people officer (HR) at Capita, took to the internet and wrote: “We’re about to become the largest business in three decades to appoint employees as non-executive directors – and I hope other HR leaders will follow suit.”
Capita, a large FTSE-listed consulting and digital services business in the UK, has £3,182.5 million in annual revenues and employs 63,000 people.
The firm planned to appoint two employees as non-executive directors, earning £64,500 a year in addition to their current salaries.
According to Will Serle: “Rather than represent the collective view of employees – not exactly a straightforward task anyway, given Capita has 63,000 of them – we want them to provide a diversity of thinking and express their own opinions, using their experience as employees.
“In other words, allowing them to be genuinely independent directors, offering an unvarnished view of the company’s operational and strategic challenges at the highest table for 10-12 meetings a year.”
The firm hoped for around 100 applications but became deluged with more than 350. This was carved to a longlist of 40, which then became 16, who all went on to be interviewed by Jon Lewis, the CEO.
Two people were chosen.
Was this just a PR stunt?
No. According to Serle: “It’s not just about restoring our reputation or trying to please politicians or the public, although these things are essential. Instead:
- It’s about being a better employer in its own right and improving Capita’s performance.
- It’s about helping to attract a new generation of talented people who are socially aware as never before.
- It’s about getting a broader range of thinking on our board that will make better decisions.
- And it’s one of many things we are doing to engage our employees better.
Who were the two ‘winners’ who got a board seat?
Lyndsay Browne and Joseph Murphy. Browne is a long-serving finance manager, and Murphy a civil engineer who advises on highway projects.
Did they need training to sit on a board?
Neither Murphy nor Browne had sat on a board before. To equip them for one year in the boardroom, the company put them through an intensive training course covering technical areas such as investor relations.
How did they fare on the board?
The CEO wanted them to offer an “unvarnished view of the operational and strategic challenges facing the company”.
At the end of their time on the board, he said they “have absolutely delivered on this objective”.
Browne says she wanted to be a non-executive because she had a lot of opinions about how things could be done differently at Capita. “I think we’ve raised things that would not otherwise have been discussed in a boardroom,” she says. “I think having engaged employees drives better business performance. I don’t have any doubt about that.”