Just as organizations have been impacted by the changes brought about by the pandemic, boards are also facing changes in how they operate and what is expected of them moving forward. And this is more acute as board chair challenges are increasing.
The board’s chair has always had a significant place at the table. Someone who has accomplished much throughout their career and has been honored with this prestigious position. While that may have been true in the past, today’s chairs are much more engaged. Their guidance and work with the Board and CEO are critical to success, especially with the seemingly constant change we’re experiencing.
To understand how the role of the chairman is evolving, Deloitte surveyed more than 300 board chairs and found some common themes.
Organizational governance needs more chair input
The pandemic and resulting uncertainty businesses face have increased board chairs’ depth and breadth of engagement. In looking at how to navigate uncertain times, innovation, digital transformation, and efficiency are areas where Chairs can support the CEO.
Society expects more from businesses
More than ever, Chairs feel responsible for the company’s impact on the communities they serve. They understand the need to prevent adverse outcomes for local communities. Chairs are essential in leading the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) work. CSR topics should be on the board agenda to better understand how leadership is working to address them.
Climate change requires businesses to respond
Chairs are well aware of the severity of climate change and the operational, regulatory, and reputational risks. They also realize they can help lead the work on strategies to address it by prioritizing it. This requires working with the CEO and a fair amount of self-learning to determine the best path forward for the company.
Crisis leadership is becoming the norm
One thing the pandemic has taught us is the need sometimes to make decisions or take action more quickly, and without all the information we’d like to have. While necessary, this also comes with more public scrutiny than ever before. This seems like an endless cycle, but it has also taught Chairs and CEOs how agile their company is and its ability to pivot, adopt new technologies, and operate under pressure.
The board now operates in a hybrid and agile mode
Like the rest of us, boards had to adopt remote practices, and Chairs found their groove to encourage participation when not together. According to the survey, meetings became shorter, more frequent, and more focused. While many respondents missed in-person meetings and the ability to read non-verbal cues when discussing important issues, a benefit of not traveling to get together was the ease of scheduling the meetings. In the future, Chairs will embrace the hybrid model with some in-person and remote meetings in between to keep momentum.
Being an effective board chair is not an easy task. There are leadership expectations, relationships to build and manage, and public accountability to manage. The ability to lead without overstepping is a difficult needle to thread. Innovation and faster decision-making require open debate and getting people out of their comfort zones. Check out this article for a list of practices for becoming and being a board chair.
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