What is it like to serve on a board after the tumultuous few years of the global pandemic? The short answer is that it’s unlike anything people have experienced before. Here, Stephen Conmy interviews Juliet Taylor (pictured above), CEO of executive and non-executive search firm Starfish.
Starfish recently interviewed 60 chairs, board members and CEOs currently addressing complex issues in their boardrooms and organisations to discover what has changed in ‘post pandemic’ boards
1: Volatility is here to stay; constant change will remain a reality in chairing organisations.
Chairs who relate governance to their organisation’s purpose and who take a longer-term view in which their teams are developed to flourish in uncertainty are ahead of the game.
2: The formerly rigid dividing line between non-executive and executive is now more porous.
A new spirit of collaboration and co-production between Chairs, non-executive board members and their top executives emerged due to closer working in 2020; many organisations have embraced this as a permanent feature.
3: Inclusive board cultures are critical for survival.
Boards set to thrive have moved beyond notions of representative diversity to become truly inclusive cultures.
4: It’s time to recognise changes in the experience of chairs and ensure that they are valued and supported both now and in the future.
Organisations should be upfront about the new realities of the chair role. Chairs indicate they value personal support and peer validation, especially concerning the big judgement calls they need to make. Prior chairing experience is currently considered more useful than ever before in navigating complexity and nuance; however, we cannot afford to delay the development of our future chairs and must continue to invest in and coach this community.
5: How you influence, take people with you and use your judgement now matters more than what you have achieved in your career alone.
Those suited to chairing organisations in 2022 and beyond may also have a more robust change orientation than those who preceded them, higher energy levels, higher levels of availability and personal engagement, and a sharper curiosity about the future.
What is it like chairing a board after the pandemic?
The most interesting thing about this report is how shaken many boards and chairs have become post-pandemic. The air of uncertainty is palpable.
For example, one chair said:
“We’re in a new age of fragility: the best boards are getting this and recognising it in more supportive challenge to their organisations.”
What they mean by this is that, In stark contrast to the remote, transactional boards of the past, the post-Covid board has to recognise the strength in unity and collaborative endeavour. As one chair said:
“If it wasn’t already, it is now a fundamental consideration to believe in what you are doing. The best boards have challenging and supportive members who aren’t there for themselves”.
Another chair, when asked about the corporate landscape, said:
“This is the decade when organisations will be forced to get it right. After that, the workforce will be fundamentally different, and people in their 20s will be in managerial positions. We’ve got eight years left to sort it out.”
The boards that thrive have a few things in common
What the report highlights most is that boards have changed – life in the boardroom has changed forever. The mindsets of chairs and directors have also evolved.
The task of governing organisations, and the collective skills required to do it properly, are constantly evolving.
Governance must be seen as inextricably linked to an organisation’s purpose to remain effective.
Organisations are responding to the changing context by increasing their risk appetite and balancing an interest in financial stability with the need to change their business models ‘outside in’.
Whether a public service or a retail product, they have no option but to meet changing consumer or stakeholder expectations.
By and large, boards thriving in the post-pandemic era seem noticeably free-thinking, open to new ideas and characterised by a higher degree of flexibility on every level.
They are necessarily more outward-facing, constantly balancing the internal governance focus with the implications of a rapidly changing external context.