CEO letter: Setting the tone from the top

Kirsten (KP) Patterson

Throughout my career managing teams, I’ve often been reminded of the Māori proverb, “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata / What is the most important thing in life? It is the people, the people, the people”. 

Organisations succeed or fail on the basis of their people and the culture that is created. All organisations set out to achieve objectives that can’t be done by one person alone, and require the work of a team.

As any director or senior executive will attest, harnessing people to work together to excel is one of those tasks that is easy in theory but much harder in practice. Coaching people with diverse values, lifestyles, motivation and ideas to work together as a unified whole requires skilled managers and a strong set of organisational values that are clearly communicated.

To do this, we set organisational values that reflect the kind of culture we want to create in the workplace. We socialise these values with our staff, and hope that within their day-to-day interactions they embody this. However, it is how these values translate into practice that really determines the culture and potential success of an organisation. Or in, the famous words of Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, all of us should be thinking about how well our organisational vision translates into workplace culture. From small rumblings directed at Hollywood, these movements erupted into significant social movements touching multiple industries across the world. With each day, new people come forward challenging behaviour that is not appropriate in the workplace. Back home, we have seen allegations of #MeToo moments at a number of organisations.

As directors, we play an important role in setting the tone and the values of an organisation, as well as modelling the kind of leadership that we would like to see. The board has an important role in holding management to account over breakdowns in culture, especially when the allegations are as serious as some of the cases we have seen.

That is why we released the DirectorsBrief ‘Sexual Harassment and the Board’s Role – #TimesUp’ in March to help directors bridge the gap between strategy and culture through better reporting and processes.

The ramifications of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements run much broader than just illegal acts of sexual harassment in the workplace. As workers take to social media to express their concerns, other behavioural cultures that can make a workplace unhealthy are also being uncovered, such as bullying.

All directors should take note of these movements, as at their heart they highlight the need for boards to create bridges between strategy and culture. The key to creating this bridge is better reporting, and making sure that boards are better able to hold management to account through asking the right questions.

The IoD is committed to continuing to provide you information on best practice in reporting, so that you can create healthy and prosperous organisations where trust between team members is maintained.

On another note, this month I will be attending the National Association of Corporate Directors Global Cyber Forum in Geneva. Targeted specifically towards boards and increasing their understanding of director obligations in an increasingly digital world, I expect this conference will provide valuable insights on how to deal with new cybersecurity demands. I look forward to passing these learnings on
to our members in the coming months.

Ngā mihi nui,

Kirsten (KP) 

2018 April/May BoardRoom