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Creating a better boardroom

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Article
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By Anne Rodda and Steven Moe
date
1 Jul 2020
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As COVID-19 restrictions loosen and we are charged with rebuilding our business models, our ears prick up at all of the talk about reframing a better future. #buildbackbetter and similar sentiments are on all our minds. Every organisation has been challenged to think and act more creatively than ever before in our working life. 

We logically and intuitively know that business-as-usual is at our own peril.

Boards have challenges ahead and alongside the traditional responsibility for risk and assurance must boldly imagine a new future. Dr David Peterson, Director Leadership and Coaching at Google, talks about managing in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and says that leaders comfortable with stress, strife and change are needed because there's going to be more of it! Boards must now ask themselves if they have the best-equipped people around the board table to envisage the necessary transformational change.

Our recently-released white paper, Tomorrow’s Board Diversity: The Role of Creatives, endorses the need for diversity of age, demography and upbringing, then adds a new and timely suggestion – recruiting creatives on to our boards. We suggest that leaders from the arts and creative industries possess the imagination, savvy commercial ingenuity, resourcefulness and emotional intelligence (EQ) that will allow boards to revolutionise their organisations. Surely creativity is one of the key competencies all board members and leaders need now to imagine new paradigms and unshackle the restraints of the past and old ways of doing things. 

In our experience, directors who have a range of diverse and creative talent, capabilities and knowledge bring different perspectives to decision-making, planning and board culture – that will likely enhance an organisation’s performance, as well as better represent the stakeholders.
- Kirsten Patterson, Chief Executive, Institute of Directors

The concept of diversity of thought has been gaining traction in New Zealand and international board rooms – not only addressing the aversion to ‘group think’ but signalling a growing awareness that a range of perceptions will allow greater opportunity for cross-pollination and innovation.

The World Economic Forum stated in its Future of jobs report that the top three valuable skills of the future are: complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity – all enhanced by having diverse perspectives. Of course, it’s easy to talk about this in concept but harder to see in action. Boards are often formed by ‘shoulder tapping’ and we tend to tap the shoulders of people we know from a similar background. We can and must do better than this old form of recruiting.

Divergent and critical thinking is needed to solve difficult challenges, and creatives are well-placed because they have the innate ability to think outside the box and challenge convention. They intuitively look for ideas from the depths of the unconscious and work at the edge of potential.

So-called ‘soft skills’ (resilience, collaboration, work ethic, empathy, adaptability, persistence, self-discipline, targeted and flexible communication tactics and problem-solving prowess) naturally reside in many of us to one degree or another. But they are very often well-honed in creatives who have, unsurprisingly, surpassed the 10,000 hour rule for mastery of their craft long before they even entered the workforce.

Creatives comfortably inhabit the world of VUCA and are accustomed to making sense out of chaos. We also have to appreciate that their careers are often in the least funded and most challenging environments and that requires not just leading with acute resourcefulness (aka the smell of an oily rag), but creating beauty.

We consulted widely when preparing the white paper and received input from many on what they have seen in practise. In reviewing the literature on the topic we were surprised at how little had been written on this particular aspect of diversity. As a result we explored all of these concepts, and dived deeply into what creatives bring to the table. We concluded that boards which invite blue sky thinking and diverse perspectives are wise, but the two dimensions of board culture necessary for success are:

  1. Composition – recruiting the right mix of governors who possess a relatable knowledge of the business and fresh outlooks), and,
  2. Culture – fostering open-mindedness through active listening.

A reminder of the value of that second element – being willing to actively listen to others perspectives – is one of our key conclusions.

Four practical steps for boards to consider

  1. Awareness

    Raise awareness around diversity of thought and the contributions creatives can provide.

  2. Pathways

    Identify smart methods to find qualified candidates beyond shoulder-tapping and traditional recruitment.

  3. Training

    Provide training for those new to boards to give greater chance of success.

  4. Culture

    Take responsibility for shaping the board culture to be one which is open and willing to engage with new perspectives.

If these ingredients and casting the net wider can be strategically built into the way a board functions, our view is that it will yield greater success for the organisation. It will lay a foundation for the future which will result in strong, dynamic and truly diverse governing bodies that lead the way forward, with courage and innovation as their guiding principles.

Individuals with a foundation in the creative arts bring imagination and diversity of thought to the board table.  If the governance culture is in place to embrace their perspective, then the discussions can be far richer and the decisions more deeply nuanced and successful. If we want boards which are not just focused on being risk managers but instead are being vision-casters, then making creatives welcome will help.

 

This article by Anne Rodda and Steven Moe draws on their White Paper published June 2020, Tomorrow’s Board Diversity: The Role of Creatives

About the authors:

  • Anne Rodda is an arts and not for profit leader and director of Voyager Advisory which delivers expertise to Aotearoa's for-purpose, creative and community sectors. 
  • Steven Moe MInstD is a partner at Parry Field Lawyers and works in corporate law providing advice to companies, not-for-profits and social enterprises. Steven is a facilitator on the IoD's Company Directors' Course

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