Boards of the future: composition in the post-Covid environment

Date: 11 May 2020

Author: Imogen Sanders, Senior Consultant at Perrett Laver

We wrote previously of the soft skills that we feel will enable success in this changing world. However, a number of professional competencies are also rising to the top of skills matrices. As ever, what your Board needs will remain unique to your context and individual circumstances, but we offer here some reflections with regards to the most requested skills in our current board searches.

Crisis Management

Whether found in specialist firms, or from across public relations, security, defence, health, or international relief, experts have a common set of skills. They tend to be characterised by the ability to make quick decisions based on limited information; problem-solving abilities and tactical knowledge; and calmness and level-headedness. Despite being willing to act without consensus when needed, the best such leaders in these fields are not egotistical but rather outcome-focused. At board level, their strong prioritisation skills and ability to work at speed, and understanding of common missteps at times of pressure, are now hugely sought after.

Risk and Audit

Frequently coupled with finance, it is usual for boards to seek experienced professionals able to monitor, review, and challenge in relation to external and internal audit, controls, management systems, and compliance. At present, appreciation of risk reporting, risk appetite and tolerance are highly desirable. Whereas focus was until recently heavily on diversification of income, fundraising, and sales and revenue generation, currently we see a slight steer towards financial viability, reporting, efficiency, control and forecasting.

Workforce

As we do in this blog, many organisations are considering how fit for purpose their teams are, and whether the future will require different or nuanced skillsets. Talent development and succession planning are also front of mind, as the overreliance on single leaders becomes apparent. As well as analysis of skills needs, the ways in which teams operate and culture building have both scaled up the priority list. As such, HR and talent professionals bring great expertise to boards.

Digital, IT and Operations

Whether remote working becomes a new norm or not, a reliable and resilient digital infrastructure has proven fundamental. Transitioning to home offices has been easier for some than others, as has digital engagement, communication and delivery. It is undoubtedly the case that previous tentative reflections on the potential of technology have accelerated to the top of the agenda and digitisation is no longer something that can be delayed. Yet, many still lack organisational knowledge and confidence in this area, and the board’s ability to provide both support and challenge will be vital.

Strategy and Brand

Organisations will need to ensure continued alignment with their values and mission, and then communicate these in future strategies and brand, adapting their brand proposition where necessary. Across industries and sectors, this is also now the time to show contribution to society, relevance and a wider presence. Brands globally and locally are seeking to work out and show what they can do to help, and telling this story will be imperative to resonating with audiences when practically all that is on minds is the current pandemic.

One final point to note in terms of future board profiles is the continued importance of equality and diversity. In times of crisis, it is easy to revert to the known and recognisable, and veer away from difference in favour of a “safe” pair of hands, but this can have serious consequences on progressing your equality, diversity and inclusion goals and thus stifle the advantages that come with this progress. A more flexible, digital world brings many benefits to those from diverse backgrounds, but unfortunately this pandemic has also disproportionately affected those from disadvantaged backgrounds in many ways. Hence, though we will join celebrations about the potential progress that lockdown work habits may have on diversity, we add a note of caution that the picture is not quite so simple as many media articles may suggest. It will be critical to still proactively consider diversity as an integral part of a healthy board composition.

We would lastly recommend to all boards that, once the dust has settled, they reflect on the successes and learnings from their Covid response and debate how this could change future operations. Connecting with others to hear what has worked well and why, and sector-wide conversations to consider mutual challenges, are well worth initiating. Perrett Laver are seeking to do our part in facilitating such forums - if we can help connect you now or in future to others, or if you are keen to speak further with us about impacts on governance across yours and other sectors, please do get in touch.


Imogen Sanders is a Senior Consultant at Perrett Laver, a leading international executive search firm working with mission-driven sectors worldwide. She is the lead for a major Sport England and UK Sport funded project aimed at enhancing diversity in non-executive leadership across the sector, through the identification, engagement and development of a network of “board-ready” candidates.
You can reach Imogen at imogen.sanders@perrettlaver.com or connect via LinkedIn.