Board Talk: Your Cultural Legacy as a Non-Executive

We hope that you will enjoy this edition of Board Talk. We are delighted to share insights from Rachel Hubbard, Consultant in our Board Practice. Rachel brings 15 years of expertise working with purpose-led organisations across the social impact space and has a keen interest in good governance. Here she shares her perspectives on how culture plays a critical element in the long-term success of any business and asks how board leaders consider culture as an important agenda item.


 

Major disasters including war have changed things dramatically, and with them have come significant cultural change previously unthinkable.  We entered the 2020s arguably with some alarming similarities to the changing environment we were facing in Britain one hundred years ago. A transition era around our relationship with Europe and the rest of world;  the huge benefits and significant challenges of technological advancement and the full impact of our global interconnectivity debilitating our well-being and future prosperity from other parts of the world, through a global health crisis and nationalistic ambition.

And what implication does this have for the leadership and decisions made by Boards? New Strategies; use of the word transformation – responding to challenges that pile one on another to create resilience – and even perhaps for some, entrepreneurial growth in a crisis. And what about culture? Clearly responding to and anticipating the headwinds, whatever they might be is vital but where does ownership for culture sit and what effect does culture have on an organisation’s ability to weather crises effectively? Does your Board discuss culture? Or is this viewed as solely the domain of the executive team? Could it be that the past two and a half years have taught us that culture is a central component of the ability for an organisation to succeed and therefore an essential part of the environment in which every decision is taken and in which each discussion is held?

Saxton Bampfylde’s Board practice advise boards about the benefits and risks associated with the quality of leadership and the breadth of the views and experiences of those around the board table. Recent events have led to complications for organisations in the hiring and retention of talents which can have far-reaching and serious impacts on the overall health of an organisation.

We are fully aware of the power of the consumer, and have recognised the power of the customer voice – even those who have much less choice about where their money is spent – but the realisation of the power of our staff is now more powerful than perhaps at any time in the past, particularly in light of digital. If unrecognised, the wrong culture can be toxic.

A Board might be addressing technology issues, the business model, the advances of competitors, the changing needs of customers, as well as looking at the remuneration or flexible working arrangements for employees, but should they also be asking themselves: is our culture creating somewhere where our people and therefore the business thrives?

We are privileged to undertake Board Reviews for a wide range of organisations and from those, and the conversations that we have informally with non-executives on a daily basis, we have put together some thinking for Boards, about this issue:

  • Does your board recognise the value of culture?

  • Are you confident that the culture would withstand a crisis?

  • Do Board members live the culture we want to have?

  • Does culture feature in the discussion on how decisions are made?

  • Are we open and accountable and are enough stakeholders’ views considered? How easy is it for those outside the Board room to see how decisions are made? Is this a risk area for us?

  • Are the importance of the values, culture and behaviours in the boardroom and through the whole organisation articulated well enough?

  • Does our staff group have confidence in us as a board when it comes to culture?

  • Is reward seen to be linked with embodying culture and values as well as wider KPIs?  This might be thinking recognition, not just remuneration.
  • Are we, as a Board, satisfied with the time and investment in measuring and evaluating the culture of the organisation and its impact on the long-term health of the business?

Board members are the stewards of an organisation for a period of time, and create the environment where many others will spend a large amount of their working hours, setting the culture for organisations present and future. They have a duty to the organisation, staff and customers to create a culture that goes beyond a good strategy and a sustainable business model, setting the tone through questions and agendas.


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