“If you are a non-executive board member and you are not really close to the inside of the organisation, then you are not doing your job.” Said Alison Gill – a behavioural psychologist who specialises in board effectiveness said in a recent webinar.
The corporate governance code clearly states that the board’s role is to promote the long-term sustainable success of the organisation – which involves being clear how the culture is aligned to the purpose, values and strategy of the organisation.
The issue starts from an unclear understanding of what exactly is an organisation’s culture and how to measure it. Boards typically receive volumes of information about their organisation and their people in the form of staff engagement surveys, customer engagement surveys, recruitment and exit information and the like. The struggle that boards then face is how to process that data in a way that helps them understand what it is telling them about the organisation’s culture.
Gill proposes there are three important aspects for Boards to think about. Firstly, Boards need to have a clear understanding of what culture is and isn’t. Culture is experienced through behaviour – in other words how things actually get done in an organisation (rather than how leaders might say they get done). Secondly, Boards need accurate metrics designed specifically to measure culture. Thirdly, it is vital that board members get out into the organisation and talk to people to find out how things get done and to listen to the people’s perspective on their experience working within the organisation.
Effective non-executives understand the importance of getting out into the organisation to meet people. They know that is not always easy and that they have to demonstrate tact and be skilful active listeners so that people will feel comfortable to talk with them. Gill adds “you can get a lot from asking: tell me what it’s like for you to work here?” It can take time for non-executives to develop the skills to sensitively get under the skin of the culture, but it is time well spent.
The pandemic has shone a light on the need for leaders to be skilled in facilitating how people behave; handwashing, wearing face masks and social distancing are behaviours that are shaping our experiences of how we interact at work. Leaders are experiencing a very visceral way how behaviour shapes culture.
It has never been more important for the board to take up its responsibility in helping create the organisation’s culture by design and this means developing knowledge and skills with regard to understanding what culture is, how to measure it and how to shape it.