Women Chairs: The Time Is Now

By Helen Pitcher OBE, Chair of Advanced Boardroom Solutions

 

With more women as board chairs, business can better serve society.

Companies should benefit all their stakeholders. This is increasingly on the minds of regulators, activists, politicians, pension investors and individuals of this world. As Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Blackrock, wrote in his 2019 Letter to CEOs, “society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues”.

If we want boards to deliver benefits for a wider stakeholder group – and stop focusing on short-term profits – we need to shift the dial on women becoming chair of these boards. Failing that, the corporate landscape won’t change.

While there are excellent male chairs, too many are products of the old boys’ network. These men pay scant attention to their increasing accountability towards stakeholders beyond their shareholders. In the United Kingdom, the days of the Financial Reporting Council (the watchdog for auditors, accountants and actuaries) are now numbered after it was embroiled in one controversy too many.

Why more women chairs is a game changer

McKinsey & Company has a long history of published reports that have established the business case for diversity. Organisations with greater gender diversity outperform others, typically have a healthier risk profile and make better investment decisions. All of this generates greater client and customer satisfaction.

Based on peer-reviewed research, surveys and anecdotal evidence, we now know what makes an effective board chair. Beyond the obvious group of traits including integrity, personal strength, courage and intelligence, the critical skills are:

  • an ability to influence others without dominating
  • an engaged vision of the future
  • strong emotional intelligence
  • coaching skills.

If we schematise the skills of an effective chairperson, it may look like this:

At the base of the pyramid lie the rules-based, measurable hard skills. While they are necessary, they can be taught and learnt.

At the top of the pyramid, we find the intuition-based soft skills that require a high emotional quotient (EQ). Those skills can only be developed through experience, practice and internal focus.

EQ & soft skills are more often associated with women than men. Though differences between ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits have little bearing on the attributes of individual men and women, research does not support the notion that men are somehow better suited to the chairperson role.

It should be clear that women are just as capable as men in directing and chairing our companies. Furthermore, they have as much right to succeed, and fail, as their male counterparts do. Our reservoir of chair talent is not so great that we can afford to ignore 50 percent of the potential candidates.

Time to accelerate the pace of change

As the leaders of our companies are called upon to strengthen their engagement with society and all stakeholders, we need to better understand and articulate what a chair role entails. The “job description” must move beyond the domineering CEO stereotype, with its descriptors of drive, ambition and ruthlessness.

The soft skills of facilitation, collaboration, listening, synthesising, defusing conflict and ensuring consensus are the hallmarks of a successful chair. At the other end of the spectrum, directive, overly assertive and antagonistic are the traits of an ineffective chair.

By acting as role models, women chairs can provide additional societal benefits. For instance, they can act as a driving force for empowerment and to promote the inclusion of a broader talent pool. In the UK, advocates of increased acceleration of women in chair roles are multiplying. They include existing female directors, the Women on Boards network, the International Women’s Forum (IWF), Men as Change Agents (MACA), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the 30% Club.

While the positive pressure for more diverse boards does show results, the action on women chairs is far behind. Too many active resistors – including old-style chairmen and nomination committees – continue to reinforce the false idea that chairs must have at least a decade of board work under their belt. Head hunters tend to say that female chairs are difficult to find, repeating a narrative they used before national targets were established for women on boards. The statistics show this is not true.

Stopping the erosion of trust in business

We need a strong push to free boards held hostage by reductionist thinking. According to research by INSEAD Professor Stanislav Shekshnia, only 20 percent of boards in the UK will be women-led by 2027. This is not enough. It is time to take action to accelerate the acquisition of more female chairs, right across the public and private corporate environment.

In the UK, the new Combined Code with its cap of nine years of service on a single board will create more churn. Investment companies must start asking mediocre chairmen to step down. Women need a greater number of enthusiastic sponsors and more board-level development. I challenge more female directors to aim for the top role.

Having more women chairs will help rebuild the trust in our corporate environment and foster businesses that deliver performance mixed with social and environmental benefits. It may just be the key to a new era of sustainable long-term profit.

Helen Pitcher OBE (IDP-C) is the chair of Advanced Boardroom Excellence, which works with board effectiveness, board evaluation reviews and coaching chairs, CEOs and NEDs. She is a graduate of INSEAD’s International Director’s Programme.

Source: INSEAD

Stop talking Big Data; start thinking Data Culture

By Justin McCord

The percentage of companies that report being data-driven is shrinking. According to a recent survey, 31% of firms surveyed say they are data-driven. That’s down from 32.4% in 2018 and 37.1% in 2017.

Meanwhile, 87.8% of executives report having a greater urgency to invest in data-driven initiatives. So, marketers are talking more about data, but we’re losing confidence in creating a data culture. The same study showed that 93% identify people and processes as obstacles to forming a data culture.

I find that this is true in both the commercial and nonprofit spaces.

Nonprofits have historically been resource-deficient compared to their commercial peers, anchored by public perceptions of overhead and waning trust in philanthropy. Add to this a trend of weakening retention of those who contribute to nonprofits, and data regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Now is the time for nonprofits to commit to forging a data culture, which starts with instituting a data governance construct. Here’s how:

1. Stop talking about big data. In fact, wipe out every data-related buzz term from your conference rooms and planning meetings. If you ask me, there’s no greater buzzkill to strategy than buzzwords.

2. Consider data your biggest business asset. For nonprofits, this means the data you have on those who have engaged with you — volunteered or donated — is central to your organizational value. This asset can help you to centralize data governance to strategically drive marketing efforts.

3. Create a data strategy task force. If you’re going to create a data culture, you must first seed the culture among key influencers. Start with a cross-functional team that can work together to build shared practices for data.

4. Identify your data management practices. Many organizations do not have documented data management practices or business rules. Instead, the rules live in a single employee’s documents or, even worse, a single employee’s head. Proactivity in identifying data management practices will help you break down silos and extend the shared practices so that everyone owns the processes and approach.

5. Build a road map for data management optimization. With documented practices built collaboratively, your task force will also likely identify areas of need. Support their work by putting resources against the areas of need. In other words, reinforce the commitment to data culture by funding optimizations that are well-planned.

6. Make data strategy the hero. Avoid common pitfalls for strategic planning, like founder’s syndrome, “we’ve always done it that way” thinking and pigeon-holing data as a function of your IT team. When data strategy is the hero, strategic planning includes a collaborative discussion on what data you’re going to measure, where you’re going to store the data and how you’re going to use this data for future marketing efforts.

7. Share. Workplace culture includes company vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs and habits. If your pursuit and goal is a data culture, simply put the word “data” in front of each of those elements: data values, data norms, data symbols and language, data habits. This isn’t a one-time side project. Forging a data culture is an iterative, behavioral commitment that requires constant collaboration and sharing.

There are plenty of resources to help you on your journey to forging a data culture. A few of my favorite resources include the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), which offers a free benchmarking assessment (RKD Group is a member of NTEN); Bloomerang, which offers free resources ranging from webinars to guides to help steer nonprofit data management practices; and content by Tom Davenport and members of the Stanford Social Innovation Review team that regularly offers insights about data, analytics and innovation in nonprofit marketing.

Source: Forbes

Chief Strategy Officer

The chief strategy officer is responsible for the overall vision and mission of our client, conceptualizing and formulating strategic initiatives to further the mission, and ensuring the day-to-day activities . Reporting directly to the CEO, the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) will work closely with the CEO, the Senior Leadership Team and the Board of Directors to develop the corporate strategy and guide the business through the strategic planning process. Primarily, the CSO will focus on building emerging business strategy with a 3-5 year perspective. Equally important, the CSO will devise a long-term (5-10+ years) strategy for a viable future, as well as sustaining the current core business in the short term (1-3 years).

Responsibilities

  • Leads the development of the strategic plan/framework for our client, and the detailed current year operating plan, while adhering to direction set by the CEO and Board of Directors. This includes formalizing and leading the strategic planning process with a focus on long term trends and outlook, near-term challenges and business priorities, and competitive intelligence.
  • Acts as a key advisor to the Chief Executive Officer on critical changes in the competitive landscape, global marketplace and external business environment.
  • Drives the execution of the strategy by working collaboratively with the other Executive Team members and ensuring that the strategy is communicated and easily understood by all throughout our client.
  • Ensures that strategic actions are completed at various levels to achieve desired results, leading our client’s approach to measurement and evaluation with the creation of an organizational dashboard for impact and organizational effectiveness to measure performance and progress towards strategic goals.

Requirements

  • A minimum of 10 years’ experience in strategic planning.
  • Seasoned professional, with a strong strategy orientation, who has previously held several business and operational roles in fast paced, complex environments. Work experience should include success in a period of growth and/or transition.
  • Must be willing to challenge the standard thinking with new ideas, new approaches, and new solutions.
  • Strong decision-making skills and the functional capabilities and leadership capacity to work and communicate effectively with people across the entire organization to see projects through from conceptualization to implementation. While strategic planning is a “must have” skill, executing that strategy is vital.
  • Exceptional creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Experience in high quality service companies – i.e. Deloitte, Accenture, E&Y, PWC, McKinsey, Booze, Cap Gemini, or direct competitor experience – i.e. Genpact, WNS, CSC, Cognizant, HCL, Infosys, Sutherland Group, TCS, Wipro, etc…
  • Operational and / or P&L experience
  • Substantial working knowledge of management strategies, financial accounting, human resource planning, customer relations, and implementation of new technologies.
  • Professional / executive presence – an ability to bridge cultural boundaries and norms to overcome barriers and improve outcomes on a global and virtual stage, demonstrating courage, an approachable style, and inspiring confidence both verbally and in writing with the ability to translate and communicate complex topics in a variety of forums.
  • Ability to multitask with research projects, data analysis, coordination with the executive team, and acting as the public face of the company in the absence of the company’s CEO.
  • Strong working knowledge of strategic frameworks to analyze problems and to guide and develop solutions.
  • Master’s Degree or an equivalent combination of a Bachelors degree and experience.
  • Proven track record with strategy planning, development, and execution.

If you are interested or know someone who might be, please let me know

Sincerely,

Larry Janis

Managing Partner I Integrated Search Solutions Group

P-516-767-3030 I C-516-445-2377

ISSG I Twitter I LinkedIn

Will You End Up as Digital Roadkill?

by Caroline Rook, Lecturer at Henley Business School, and Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change |

Most of us are so digitally connected that we have become utterly disconnected.

Michelle, the COO of a multinational corporation, was one of the most respected executives in her industry. A true workhorse, she was famous for her ability to multitask and constant online presence. While her staff admired the way she worked, they felt pressured to do the same. Recently, several of them were signed off from work, citing burnout, and two others had handed in their resignation.

During a session with her executive coach, Michelle described how she exercised every day before going to the office and used that time to discuss work with colleagues over the phone. Similarly, she optimised every minute of her travel time in her car or on planes. Any spare time was devoted to maintaining a strong presence on LinkedIn and other social media. She took pride in replying to all the messages and comments she received.

Michelle wondered whether this busyness had begun to hurt her ability to concentrate and think for the long term. She found it hard to sleep at night and had a creeping sense of feeling overwhelmed. She believed this caused her to make more mistakes and be less productive than usual. “Could mindfulness training be of help?”, she asked.

The heavy toll of tech-enabled productivity

Given Michelle’s work habits, what is happening to her and her team should come as no surprise. They suffer from technostress, the inability to cope with the digital world in a healthy manner. Digital technology was supposed to make us more productive – and it has to some extent – but those benefits have not come without costs.

The combined pressure of constant virtual presence and continuous information bombardment have had negative consequences on our health. Aside from creating potential work overload, technostress has paved the way to anxiety, feelings of frustration, job dissatisfaction, poor job performance, absenteeism and retention problems. Burnout and mental health problems, including digital addiction, always lurk in the shadows.

When RescueTime (a time management software company) ran a survey on the use of digital technology in the workplace, only 10 percent of respondents said they felt in control of how they spend their days. Data from more than 50,000 RescueTime users showed that people have only 1 hour and 12 minutes a day when they aren’t using communication tools or being distracted by them. The survey also found that 70 percent of employees keep their inbox open all day and only 20 percent have a deliberate strategy for dealing with their e-mails.

The tricks our brains play on us

Why are we obsessed with being constantly connected? Why do we find it so hard to resist the beeps and alerts of incoming messages and notifications? Obvious explanations include the fear of missing out, the need to feel (or be perceived as) productive, procrastination and the compulsion to feel connected in an increasingly virtual world. The latter is especially true for senior executives who often suffer from the loneliness of command.

Underlying these motivations are deeper biochemical and psychological forces which bear a strong resemblance to those seen in gambling addiction. Just like compulsive gamblers who live for the thrill of the occasional win, we feel compelled to constantly check our inbox as it may contain a message we are eagerly awaiting or some other “nice surprise”. In both cases, random rewards stimulate the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that motivates us to repeat the triggering behaviour.

In the corporate world, there is a growing awareness that people must disconnect in order to carve out time for reflection. This shift is great news, but we must guard against quick-fix solutions. For example, a high performer like Michelle cannot work manically and then expect a few mindfulness sessions to save her from impending burnout.

Learning to self-manage

The challenge for people like Michelle is to learn how to keep technostress at bay. This requires self-control. Leaders must create environments that satisfy the human need for connection while also enabling their people to disconnect at times. It is about recapturing what was once a sacred space – the one reserved for reflection and creative thinking.

To free themselves and their staff from the prison of technostress, executives must define clear boundaries for how and when to use digital communication tools. This could include guidelines about appropriate response time to different types of contact. Some suggestions are:

  • As a rule, e-mails should not require an immediate response. Truly urgent issues should be resolved through a phone call.
  • Staff should refrain from accessing e-mail outside of working hours or whilst on holidays.
  • People should not stay in the office outside normal hours unless absolutely necessary. The same applies to virtual meetings out of hours.

Another measure to combat technostress consists of a brief, automated e-mail response indicating that the message has been received but will only be addressed within a particular time frame (e.g. at a specific hour in the morning and in the afternoon).

There is a difference between a lightning-fast response and one that really adds value.  In this context, it is also worthwhile to clarify that nobody in the office is expected to know everything.

Working smart

It is up to leaders to promote a “work-smart” mindset that advocates taking breaks for reflection. Even when it seems that we are not doing anything, our brains are often working on important issues surreptitiously.

Considering this reality, is your commute really the time to check messages or call team members and clients? Or should it be ‘news’ time, a space to disconnect from work while staying abreast of political and economic developments? Could you use this time to read some fiction or just look out the window and enjoy the scenery?

If you can’t block time alone for reflection when you’re in the office, why not step outside to get some fresh air and have a stroll? A short nap can also be very helpful, as it is a proven way to restore our alertness, memory and decision-making ability.

There are many ways to disconnect from the virtual world to create the headspace needed to engage in truly important activities, such as rethinking corporate strategy or creating a vision for the future. These moments of deliberate disconnect are a countervailing force against dopamine-driven, compulsive behaviours.

Executives should do everything in their power to avoid becoming digital roadkill. They would do well to realise that the more digitally connected they are, the more they disconnect from their fellow human beings. Although communication tools have their uses, face-to-face interactions have the most potential for meaningful and durable impact.

Source: INSEAD

The Challenges Faced by Global Cosmopolitan Women

by Linda Brimm

To tap the full potential of these agents for change, organisations must listen and push beyond assumptions.

Carolyn was thrilled when she was offered a role in China. A high flyer in her Dutch organisation and fluent in Mandarin, she believed this was the perfect opportunity to get the international experience that she wanted. However, her boss suggested that it would be difficult for a woman to lead a team for this particular project in China. While his intentions might have been good, his comments left her feeling vulnerable to concerns about gender bias and her ability to handle it.

She knew that the decisions she would have to make in an unfamiliar context would be scrutinised. Carolyn could run into difficulties related to language. While these factors risked eroding some of her self-confidence, she was determined to enter this complex negotiation and decision-making arena. Due to her gender and culture, Carolyn was used to standing out and knew how to benefit from different perspectives. She would probably need to be much better than the men who had previously held the same position to be appreciated. Continue reading