IDN Webinar: Governance in a post-Covid World Lessons from Africa

By Adrian Moors, EMBA (2004), IDP-C, and IDN Mauritius/South Africa Ambassador

What are the learnings from Covid-19 and how are these being utilized in Africa to help enhance governance in a post-Covid world?

These were the questions discussed in an INSEAD Directors Network webinar, Governance in a post-COVID World – Lessons from Africa held on 4 November 2020.

The webinar was opened by Adrian Moors, EMBA (2004), IDP-C and IDN Mauritius/South Africa Ambassador, and moderated by Liselotte Engstam with support from Hagen Schweinitz, both IDN Board Members.

The panellists were:

The key highlights of the discussion were:

  • Africa is a complex and challenging environment.
  • There are negative perceptions of the continent.
  • However, there are also a number of opportunities.
  • Corporate governance is critical to realise these opportunities in a sustainable manner.
  • There are essential learnings and aspects of governance in Africa that could assist in this regard, particularly in a post-Covid world.

The key points discussed were:

Africa is a diverse continent

There is Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone and Maghreb Africa. There are a number of programmes, and corporate governance codes being adopted across the continent. Many of these are linked to the King Code and OECD guidelines. Although the codes vary across the Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone and Maghreb countries, the narrative around Corporate Governance is changing and complexity being removed.

Codes are also being developed and adopted across the Private Sector and State-Owned Enterprises with sustainability becoming a key element through the Global Reporting Initiative Standards.

Impact of Covid-19 on corporate governance

Covid-19 has highlighted the need for enhanced governance and sustainability for entities. This is also being supported by governments and the African Corporate Governance Network as composed of Institutes of Directors of about 30 African countries, including through virtual training and networking forums.

For example, following governance challenges within KPMG South Africa, the organisation restructured its board by including a number of non-executive directors and a non-executive Chairman.  In order for corporate governance to have meaning and become embedded in an organisation, it has to become part of the culture.  This needs to be underpinned in a real manner by the organisation’s purpose and values.

Governance in family businesses is often informal but underpinned by family values and thus embedded. In many instances it is better than that of listed companies.  Covid-19 has enhanced family businesses’ clarity of purpose and sense of responsibility towards the communities in which they operate.

Covid-19 has brought about significant changes to corporate governance practices and the manner in which boards operate in Africa, including:

  1. Regulators having to change and adapt their processes (e.g. allowing virtual Board Committee and Board meetings as well as Annual General Meetings)
  2. “Paternalistic” and “older” directors being forced to accept a more modern manner of operating.
  3. Staff welfare being prioritized while also having to develop accountability with remote working.
  4. The importance of CSR being elevated with companies that have traditionally neglected their social license to operate being penalized in the market.

It has also accelerated the implementation of initiatives such as linking objectives with performance (in the new remote environment), addressing CEO succession and managing risks, the information gap and fair process

The traditional limited transparency around board and organisational operations in Africa is no longer sustainable.

Understanding Africa

Board diversity in Africa is an important issue. It is not just about race, but also language and tribal.

Awareness of this and a local understanding is critical to successfully operate on the continent.

It needs to be addressed and can be done so through the right local structures and representation.

Having a “big bang” approach to improving governance as applicable to the Mo Ibrahim arrangement, is not practical and should be scaled up in a thematic approach to happen incrementally.

Along with the IDN members and ambassadors, other organisations that can assist in addressing this and finding local directors include the Institute of Directors and major accounting firms.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a learning from Africa is that it is essential to embed good corporate governance to protect business for the future and to grow in a responsible manner.

Confronting Governance Conundrums in an Era of Change

How have the role and focus areas of boards been evolving as the corporate landscape has changed? 

By Karen Loon, IDN Board Member and Non-Executive Director

On 16 October 2020, a diverse panel led by Helen Pitcher OBE, IDN President discussed “Confronting Governance Conundrums in an Era of Change” in a session held as part of the INSEAD Directors Forum.  Panellists included:

  • François Bouvard, Vice Chair of Institut Français des Administrateurs & NED
  • Karina Litvack, Non-Executive Board Director, ENI S.p.A., Executive Board Director, Chapter Zero, Member of Board of Governors, CFA Institute, Non-Executive Director, BSR
  • Elena Pisonero, Chairperson of Taldig and former President of Hispasat, former Spain’s Ambassador to the OECD; former Secretary of State of Trade, Tourism and SMEs in Spain

The panellists discussed a wide range of topics including:

  • What COVID has meant for boards
  • Digitisation and data
  • Changes in corporate governance in the future
  • How will the role of directors change in the future?

 What COVID has meant for boards

Over the past nine months, COVID has significantly changed our world.  Whilst some companies anticipated some of the changes, others were less prepared for them.  For many companies, it has created an acid test for workforces, management and boards who face big challenges ahead.  As management may not have enough time to focus on strategy and “reset”, there may need to be a big shift in the roles of management and boards.

The acceleration of change has also brought to the forefront companies which were less or more prepared due to their digital structures.  Those companies which identified the transition of change in society prior to COVID have been transitioning this fairly well compared to sectors which are struggling because they are still doing business in more traditional ways.  COVID has emphasised the need for boards and management to work more closely together to identify the future needs of stakeholders at large, not just shareholders.

The pandemic is an example of a systemic risk – something that none of us can solve because it needs to be solved at a systemic level, but all of us suffer the consequences of if it’s poorly managed, therefore, what are we going to do?  In considering the systemic impact of the pandemic, a broader question some companies have been considering is do boards understand systemic risk, do they talk about it, do they discuss it?  What can they do as companies to influence systemic preparedness, and is there a role for business in influencing the policy environment and the big social infrastructure investments that are made to protect both the society and business environment?

Some panellists feel that it is time for companies, led by their boards to introduce more ‘out of the box’ thinking and change the role of governance.  Boards and companies should not only be considering what they can control but think more broadly about all the things that are going on.

Digitisation and Data

Many companies have a misconception or misunderstanding of what digital is – it is what we can do with connectivity but doing things in a different way. Digital technology is the tool which allows companies to better reach their purpose.

Increasing the extent of use of digital should be viewed as a cultural change; it is not a matter of introducing new processes or new titles for the C-Suite.  It is how companies combine digital and physical means.  Companies need to have a mindset change and consider their whole value chain and how they can better manage and identify best opportunities to change their business models in order to thrive.  Companies cannot succeed at affecting this transformation unless they put people at the centre of it.

One suggestion was that in order to be better prepared for more digitalisation, companies should introduce ‘D’ in ESG because we should introduce as much data as we can to improve our decision-making processes.  Data is a crucial part of a digital mindset to improve decision making and identify and anticipate future risks.

Changes in corporate governance in the future

Boards are now looking at how they govern their companies more holistically, shifting discussion towards stakeholder governance rather than just shareholder capitalism.  Many companies are starting to address human issues (i.e. talent development) more effectively and are connecting the dots in terms of digital to human elements, recognising that at the end of the day that key stakeholders are customers and employees.  Digital has been providing companies ways to be more efficient.

Whilst sustainability is more on the mind of everyone, many companies are struggling with shorter term issues, so have pushed some longer-term questions aside for the moment.  This will continue if the pandemic drags on.  However, boards and management do need to revisit the way they work together on strategy in the longer term.  Whilst in the short term, companies may have lost focus on sustainability, in the longer term the view is there needs to be much more focus on this area as companies have a societal responsibility and everything they do should link back to the organisational purpose.

It is likely that the amount of time which boards spend focusing on more “out of the box” discussions in the longer term will expand, given that CEOs and management teams are required to spend much more time on shorter term issues.

How will the role of directors change in the future?

As the whole landscape changes, directors will also need to change.  This should start with the board of directors.  To be on top of all the issues, not only do they need to be open, read a lot and network well, they need to continue to improve their soft skills to be able to support their CEOs and teams in a supportive and yet challenging way.  Boards need to increasingly take a holistic view of their stakeholders, as well as how they support the development of talent, and how they use digital and data.  There is also likely to be much more interaction between boards and management, often digitally.

Webinar: Sustainability and Climate in Strategy and Board Agenda

By Karen Loon, IDN Board Member and Non-Executive Director

With climate challenges increasing, the board has a responsibility to assess the impact and define strategies to handle the risk.  Are we as board members doing enough?  Do we understand how to address the topic?  What are the challenges and opportunities here?

INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) members had the opportunity to listen to Lise Kingo, IDP-C, NED and former executive director at UN Compact and Novo Nordisk, Stig P Christensen, IDP-C and NED, and Silvio Dulinsky, Head of Business Engagement Latin America, World Economic Forum held on 18 November 2020 in an exclusive webinar for members which was facilitated by IDN Board Member, Liselotte Engstam based in Sweden with Q&A support from Hagen Schweinitz, a fellow IDN Board Member based in Germany.

Top left – Lise Kingo, Top right – Silvio Dulinsky.  Bottom – Stig P Christensen

In their introductory remarks, the panellists covered three areas:

Responsible business is now a board and senior management agenda however climate and social inequality remains far behind

The Sustainable Development Goals were issued out five years ago.  Whilst there is much broader recognition that responsible business is now a key board and senior management agenda topic, after five years, we are still very far behind in the whole climate area and also social inequality.

Due to the huge gap and climate emergency across the globe, the whole area of climate change has developed and is now one of the most mature areas in relation to how companies can control, manage and set good risk and targets.  In particular, the financial community has put climate risk as a key priority through how they are setting targets.  Another recent initiative is that investors want to know how companies put climate risk costs into their accounts.

Climate will continue to stay on the board and management agenda.  However, companies need to develop more holistic approaches to running their businesses when it comes to ensuring a successful transition to a net-zero economy. There are a number of tools and initiatives in place to support board members in this process, which means there’s no reason for boards not to stat working on a transition strategy.

We are beyond a tipping point in relation to climate.

  1. We are beyond a tipping point – We have no time to waste. Policy-makers and business leaders have to their best to rapidly implement new ways forward, as younger generations are demanding.  Investors are increasingly more supportive of these changes.
  2. Green and digital is core business – There is currently a risk for boards to get stuck on the compliance and risk agenda and not address opportunity agenda. It is often hard for boards to have strong and precise discussions and evaluation of the opportunity side.  Boards should push this agenda beyond climate.  The way forward requires innovation of the regulatory framework which is currently work-in-progress.
  3. Open the windows and doors – Look outside beyond the borders of your company and M&A objectives you are facing with a systems lens on. Create symbiosis between different companies and sectors.
  4. Listen to the crowds – They can’t be on the boards, but they have to be heard by the company.

Tools are available to support boards. A value chain approach should be adopted.

Tools are available to support boards in relation to setting up effective Climate Governance.  Specifically, there are eight climate principles outlined in the World Economic Forum White Paper “How to Set Up Effective Climate Governance on Corporate Boards – Guiding principles and questions”.  These are:

  • Principle 1 – Climate accountability on boards
  • Principle 2 – Command of the subject; boards need the knowledge to debate and stay informed re climate related decisions.
  • Principle 3 – Board structure; the board structure needs to be effective to embed climate in the decision-making processes of the board and senior management.
  • Principle 4 – Material risk and opportunity assessment; management should assess and manage short, medium and long term climate related risks and opportunities.
  • Principle 5 – Strategic integration; management should integrate climate considerations into their strategic and financial planning of the company
  • Principle 6 – Incentivisation
  • Principle 7 – Reporting and disclosure; reporting and disclosure should be undertaken with the same rigour as a financial report.
  • Principle 8 – Exchange; engage peers, regulators, investors and the whole value chain in the process.

All companies, including SMEs are crucial in relation to transforming value chains.  The role of the board is to support the broader value chain changes required.

A challenge is how can we bring on board others who are not yet convinced on the importance of the issue.  The Chair and CEO as well as a critical mass of directors play a critical role to put climate on the agenda of the board to support driving the change.

Top – Liselotte Engstam.  Bottom – Hagen Schweinitz

Following the opening remarks, the panellists and IDN members engaged in lively discussion in relation to topics including:

  • The importance of getting climate on the board agenda.
  • Being proactive on climate before rules becoming mandatory. Global requirements on climate are increasing rapidly.
  • Leadership agenda – Set goals which are not only financial, but also deal with other areas including climate, diversity etc. to drive the change agenda. The importance of the role of the board to drive this.
  • The increasing focus on climate being placed by investors in more recent times.
  • How do boards look at the risks and opportunities in relation to climate?
  • Sustainability reporting including accountability, accounting and valuation considerations.
  • Directors’ fiduciary duties in relation to climate.

As Liselotte Engstam concluded:

“There’s no question that we need to have increased focus from board directors, and it also needs to be more inclusive and holistic, and we are getting much more attention from investors… Don’t just look at this as negative it’s a fantastic time especially now to look at (it as) a source such as an opportunity to rethink and re-set”.

The next exclusive IDN webinar will be on Getting your First Board Mandate which will be held on 1 December 2020 at 1200 – 1300 CET.

 

Distinction-cum-baggage: The board director’s track record

By Pamela Ravasio, IDP-C and IDN Board Member

A recent Bloomberg article found the following as they analysed the past and present professional affiliations of more than 600 directors and executives of the world’s 20 largest banks: Only few individuals had experience in renewable or sustainable industries. Far more had ties to polluting industries: At least 73 individuals even have at one time or another held a position with one or more of the biggest corporate emitters of greenhouse gases, including 16 connected to oil or refining companies.

More specifically: Of the four (4) banks where the boards directors offered some expertise in renewables or sustainability, every single one had significant links to ‘greener’ companies – notably in electric & utilities. The opposite held true for the remaining 16 of the 20 analysed boards.

In more succinct words: the study found that board expertise and prior affiliation of board directors correlated very well with the extent of investments into ‘emitting’ or ‘renewable’ energy companies.

Ironically, it is precisely the directors’ prior track record and experience, one of the very reasons why they got (s)elected onto the board, that could jeopardize their board’s forward decisions. Because – as the Bloomberg study showed – there are very, very few directors or even senior executives, with sufficient experience and track record in either renewables or sustainability. No matter their industry background.

…there are very, very few directors or even senior executives, with sufficient experience and track record in either renewables or sustainability. No matter their industry background.

To that point: there are even much fewer, if any, board directors in circulation that have a track record on how to marry the prosperity of a (their) company with business models that go above and beyond the traditional ‘growth model’, to just name one example. Hence, there is a tendency in relying on their past winning strategies to tackle the challenges in the wait for us to experience – globally as well as within individual businesses. This is like taking to the skies of the 21st century with technology from the era prior to the industrial revolution.

Track record bias: what is it, and why does it matter?

Track record bias is the unintentional bias directors introduce onto the board precisely through the very genuine, authentic and well-earned achievements of their prior career experiences.

Example: The former country manager of a large Aluminium firm with an excellent reputation for engagement with indigenous peoples and H&S joins the board of a major synthetic polymers company.

  • Pros: The new board director is very familiar with extractive industries, their environmental profile, the challenges around labour conditions and the global nature of such a low-margin business.
  • Cons: It may be tough for this new board director to consider viable alternative technologies based on renewable and/or recycled materials of origins, and the respective differences in client relationships, partnership models and global sales and logistics approaches.

Track record bias is something every director brings to the table once joining a board. In itself it is neither negative nor positive. In fact, consciously managed (key word: board thought diversity) it can add tremendous value by directing the board’s discussions into new, and so far unfamiliar terrain and in this way contribute to the resiliency efforts underway.

However, unsurprisingly the opposite it true if a board is not put together with clear priority given to thought diversity, as can be seen in the results of the Bloomberg research mentioned above.

And there is a somewhat simplistic reason for those results: Most board directors are or have been reasonably successful CEOs and CFOs, or else high-flying executives, of large(r) companies. Often in industries that are traditionally considered ‘adjacent’ to the company on whose board they are sitting.

Successful they may have been. But until very, very recently their role would not have required them to understand the implications of the Paris Climate Agreement, the SDGs, or the scientific consensus around climate adaptation for example. For most, such insights were allocated to the job descriptions of their sustainability speciality staff, or possibly the communications team, who in turn would have been required to pitch the traditional business case for any initiatives they saw necessary.

Board Diversity and Complementarity: The Origin of ESG[1] success and capability

In other words: not only do today’s board members by and large have very little practical experience when it comes to renewables, sustainability, or economic models that do not rely on pure and simple GDP growth. But they also have often built track records in industries that since decades are shown (and known) to be among the largest emitters, and thereby at the root of the current climatic challenges.

Therefore, unless such board directors are aware and accepting of the baggage they bring to a board table, and are willing to question the modus operandi of their industries of origin, their industry track record will only lead to more of the ‘old same’. And in this way merely perpetuate and replicate the issues found in precisely those emitting industries.

Once more: this is not to diminish such directors genuine track record acquired through hard work.

It is to point out that their track record on its own is incomplete. Their board is in needs of a complementary skill and knowledge set for proactive decision taking in the decades to come.

[1] ESG / Sustainability is one area where board diversity is of utmost relevance because the world we shortly will be living in will be unrecognisably different from the one we live in now. This is not to say that other subjects – digitalisation for example – do not require it. They do. The difference is fundamental however: ESG / Sustainability requires a fundamental different economic modus operandi made possible by new, so far unknown business models. Digitalisation in contrast will certainly result in new business models, but may not necessarily affect the fundaments of the economic system as such.

Four Winners of the Inaugural IDN Award for prestigious board positions

October 16, 2020

Four Winners of the Inaugural IDN Award 2020 for prestigious board positions

The INSEAD Directors Network (IDN) is an official Global Alumni Club, whose mission is to foster excellent corporate governance through networking, communication and self-improvement.

Our more than 1500 Alumni work on boards around the world, sharing knowledge and managing businesses across all industrial sectors. They also provide invaluable support for Not-for-Profit organisations.

We want to celebrate this success by recognising some of the most prestigious mandates that have been given to IDN Member.

The winners were selected from the 230 mandates, shared via the quarterly IDN Board Position Announcements*.

Selections were based on the size and and importance of the organisations they represented, their global relationships and the position at the board, in combination with pursuit of  INSEADs mission ‘Force for Good’. Four winners were selected, which all have an outstanding track record and have demonstrated the highest levels of integrity.

The winners are:

Not-for-Profit Category

 

Carole Ackermann

 IDP 8 2015

Chair

École hôtelière de Lausanne

 

Gbenga Oyebode

 IDP 6 2014

Trustee

Ford Foundation

 

For-Profit Category

 

Anita Hauser

 IDP 5 2014

Board Member

Roche Holdings AG

 

Denise Koopmans

 IDP 10 2015

Board Member

Swiss Post

 

A task force including four members of the IDN Board worked to define the selection critieria and examined the candidates. Selection criteria included: position shared via the IDN quarterly Board Position, candidate holding INSEAD Directors Program Certification IDP-C, excluding current IDN board members, the size and importance of organisation, pursuit of INSEADs mission ‘Force for Good’. Verifications were made by INSEADs Corporate Governance Centre and the winners were unanimously supported by the full IDN Board.

The awards was presented at INSEAD Directors Network 2020 Annual General Management Meeting.

 We congratulate the winners. They reflect well on IDP, INSEAD and IDN and we can be proud of their achievements.

 

On behalf of the IDN Board,

The Award Task Force Members,
Jeff Scott, Hagen Schweinitz, Thomas Seale and Helen Wiseman.

*Ref. Latest of the quarterly IDN Board Position Announcements Sep 7, 2020.

Holding the moral compass – Boards social responsibility

By Florence Kaminska, IDP-C and Non-Executive Director

The COVID19 crisis led to the abrupt halt of an economic model, increasingly challenged in the past decade with climate and social warnings. Faced with such unprecedented situation, in varying degrees, consensus around the world was to choose health over economy, humanity over profit. The speed of reaction and solidarity – displayed by individual actions, state intervention to protect employment, companies adapting their production to produce masks, gel, ventilators … gave us a glimpse of what ‘the world of tomorrow’ could look like, demonstrating the impact of citizenship and value driven decisions.

It also raised expectations on the way companies create value in future and address the social impact of the decisions they make.

The pandemic broke out in a period of great existing instability and unrest resonating across the world through social media. Citizenship pressure is likely to increase and have a louder voice, as the economic consequences of COVID19 crisis massively impact employment. It will present great risk for society and business, but equally a great opportunity for companies that are delivering value for both shareholders and stakeholders (1). In this context, the Board’s role in keeping a moral compass whilst ethically charged, short and long-term, decisions are made and their consequences managed, is key.

What value does the Company create and for whom?

Beyond their responsibility to the long-term sustainability of the company, the current context is a compelling call for boards to drive, as part of their duty of care, the value the company is creating to society at large. Such commitment will increasingly determine the company’s ability to access market capital, attracting and retaining talents and ultimately impacting brand reputation and Investors Relations. Private investors increasingly want to see their savings and investments to produce as much good as dividend and are becoming more demanding. Equally, many people not just millennials, want to work for an organisation whose philosophies and actions resonate with them intellectually and emotionally. As the debate on shareholder Vs. stakeholder primacy is gaining momentum, the ‘S’ in ESG is gaining a new prominence in the Boardroom, accelerated by the COVID19 humanitarian and economic impact on businesses, communities and people’s lives. The way boards chose to approach cash and liquidity will have both social and governance implications and, as such imposing social responsibility at the highest strategic level. (2)

Are we moving towards new dimensions of leadership?

Much publicised heads of state, New Zealand, Germany,  as well as CEOs from Danone, Unilever, AirBnb, to name a few, have demonstrated, beyond they undoubted ‘technical’ talent and experience, a form of moral authority and leadership attributes already emerging as differentiators such as accountability, humility, transparency, proximity as well as empathy and compassion. These new leadership attributes will equally impact the board profiles and composition, as such public examples raised the level of awareness on ‘purpose leadership’. (3)

How does it impact the Board?

The social impact of decisions made by companies, imposing a form of moral compass to navigate these complex times, is likely to determine the levels of trust from stakeholders, and ultimately impact the bottom line and the shareholders.  Holding the moral compass is not about holding management accountable for vague, all being righteous principles. It is about maintaining a dialogue with shareholders whilst collaborating with executives to manage the complexity and conflicting needs of the multiple stakeholders, assessing risks, opportunities and trade-offs, setting priorities and measuring purpose-based decisions.

Holding the moral compass is not about holding management accountable for vague, all being righteous principles. It is about maintaining a dialogue with shareholders whilst collaborating with executives to manage the complexity and conflicting needs of the multiple stakeholders, assessing risks, opportunities and trade-offs, setting priorities and measuring purpose-based decisions.

To do so, some fundamentals will require attention, such as:

  • Defining or revisiting the corporate social purpose – 2008 Financial crisis led to new governance framework and enhanced regulations but did not address social unbalances. COVID19 crisis is accelerating societal impact in governance through by-laws and legislations. Proactively embracing the trend and using existing best in class examples will determine the sustainability of a business starting with access to capital and talents (4). The ability to measure the authenticity and results of their actions will impact the reaction of both stakeholders and shareholders, as will the Board ability to drive an ESG culture.
  • Aligning scorecards and KPIs – Driving an ESG culture implies revisiting governance, scorecards and KPIs. Finance may have neglected qualitative and quantitative assessment of management in the past. As the concept of the Triple bottom line expands (5), there is likely to be more effort from the investors side in understanding how to manage companies well in future and pushing their goals under the OECD agenda or reference the UN’s SDG agenda (6). Remuneration committees will consequently need to reflect these new imperatives in the Executives compensation & incentives, including those of the Board.
  • Enriching the composition of the Board – The Chair brief is expanding as his/her effectiveness will be determined by the ability to interpret complex ESG landscape and implications of shifting social, political and regulatory expectations and their associated risks. The pandemic situation has also revealed new skillsets required among the non-executive board members, such as technology, HR, alternative financing, restructuring, and critical leadership attributes such as collaboration, agility, humility and courage. Leading by example will become an integral part of the role of the Board, promoting agility to adapt fast to new challenges whilst never conceding on the violation of core ethical principles related to the corporate social purpose. The Nomination Committees are likely to revisit the needs, profiles as well as the selection criteria, methods and breadth of candidate pipeline.

An opportunity to shape the ‘world of tomorrow’

Company boards will play a key role in creating the ‘world of tomorrow’ as they guide and hold management accountable to rethinking the company social purpose, embedding it in their decision making as they navigate the complex post COVID19 economic landscape.

The writer George Sanders used the following analogy for the current COVID19 moment, ‘we’ve slipped on ice but haven’t hit the pavement yet. We are caught in a suspended state between losing control and feeling the full impact’.

Companies will be faced with tough dilemma. Cost savings and profit motives, which may have served them well in the past are likely to backfire (7).  Without a moral compass in making tough decisions and building a more sustainable model, in the way wealth is created and redistributed, the prophecy of the French writer, Michel Houellebecq , ‘the world after will be the same…in worse’ may well materialise. Yet, ESG has raised in awareness and reaching an inflection point. The priorities Boards drive, the courage to do ‘the right thing’, the moral authority they hold and their leadership in shaping sustainable and equitable long-term corporate strategies will define the, much hoped for, ‘World of tomorrow’.

References
(1) https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/finance/stakeholder/
(2) Fidelio partners. Cash is King! ESG? May, 10 2020
(3) https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-time-to-lead-with-purpose-and-humanity
(4) Examples such as B Corp certified companies, https://bcorporation.eu/ 

(5) https://www.business.com/articles/triple-bottom-line-defined/
(6) http://www.oecd.org/dac/sustainable-development-goals.htm  https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
(7) When Crisis strikes lead with Humanity. Harvard Business Review April 23 2020, Doug Sundheim

 

Human behaviour – Why does it matter to effectively manage risk?

By Luc Albert, Ard W. Valk and Déborah Carlson-Burkart

Organisations are exposed to risks

In September 2011, Kweku Adoboli was arrested, after having caused a loss of over US$ 2 billion for UBS by unauthorized trading at the group’s investment bank. In the following month, the bank’s CEO admitted that the computer system at UBS had detected Adoboli’s unauthorized trading activities beforehand. Although the system had issued a warning, the bank had failed to act upon it.

Over the past two decades, the financial industry has been regularly shaken by cases of such nature. These occurred despite strong regulation, as well as the existence of robust risk frameworks. Underlying causes included fraud or bad intentions, but also human mistakes and mis-interpretations of duties and responsibilities.

In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon Drilling rig exploded in the Macondo Prospect oil field about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast. The explosion resulted in human casualties – 11 workers died and 17 were injured – an oil well fire and a massive offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A BP-report, released in September 2010, revealed a series of design errors, operational malfunctioning and human mistakes as main causes for the catastrophe. In September 2014, a US District Judge ruled BP was guilty of gross negligence and wilful misconduct. Transocean and Halliburton, two other companies involved, were fined alongside BP, which was apportioned the bulk of the blame.

The oil industry is known to apply rigorous risk management, given the nature of its operations and potential exposures to its environment. In this industry as well, multiple examples can be found of significant accidents, major pollution and human tragedy, which couldn’t be prevented despite these frameworks.

The Enron scandal publicized in October 2001, resulted in substantially more regulatory scrutiny and led to the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The downfall of Enron was caused by wilful human misconduct, incentivized by asymmetric compensation schemes, creative accounting facilitated by the firm’s auditor and a corporate culture focused on misleading internal and external stakeholders.

Risk management framework: a foundation for risk mitigation

A sound risk management approach provides a framework, which typically allows to identifying particular events relevant to the organization’s objectives, assessing them in terms of likelihood and magnitude of impact, while determining a response strategy and a monitoring process, including regular reporting on its design and operating effectiveness. By identifying and proactively addressing risks and opportunities, organisations can protect and create value for their stakeholders, such as owners, employees, customers, regulators, and society at large.

The company’s executive management is responsible for the establishment and implementation of an appropriate risk management framework. Ongoing oversight is sometimes enforced via a dedicated risk management function, led by a member of the executive management team. Today, this is a standard approach for strongly regulated sectors like the financial industry. Internal audit provides assurance.

The board, which has ultimate fiduciary responsibility for determining the company’s strategic direction, plays an important role to assure that risks are appropriately identified and effectively mitigated. After being inducted into the firm’s risk management framework, board members merely receive regular reports from executive management, the internal audit function, as well as external auditors, including ongoing risk assessments, identified exposures and mitigating actions. Applying its collective expertise and experience, the board facilitates identification of oversights and blind spots.

Does this allow the board to effectively fulfil its supervisory role in risk management?

A survey conducted among our IDP 29 cohort members about their own experience revealed a wide variety of risk management  approaches in the companies they are engaged in as board members. Not surprisingly, regulated industries appear to have more robust risk frameworks than non-regulated ones. The same applies for larger, more mature companies in comparison to start-ups or smaller companies. Information received is different in quantity, quality and regularity. Moreover, it is often not easy to assess. The amount of time boards dedicate to risk management also differs between companies and industries. Developing a thorough understanding of the company’s core processes as a pre-requisite to fulfil the board’s role turned out to be a common denominator.

Although the examples at the beginning of this article derive from different industries, human behaviour seems to be a decisive factor in all three of them. Whilst risk management frameworks are hardly comparable in quality, rigor and attention, their effectiveness heavily depends on how these are applied by the people involved on a daily basis.

So, why should human behaviour be of interest to board members?

Let us take a step back. The board has ultimate fiduciary responsibility for determining the company’s strategy. This includes stress testing a long-term business plan, its underlying assumptions and main risks. Whilst executive management is mandated to seek growth opportunities, drive innovation and strengthen the company’s market position, it is the board’s responsibility to ensure that the company’s going concern is not put at risk. Or as Timothy Rowley likes to put it: “An effective board acts as an anti-inflammatory, not a growth hormone.”

Once the strategy for a given time period has been approved, the board’s role moves to regular “health checks” which are to a large extent defined by the company’s risk management framework. However, as it appears, it is not enough to have a cognitive understanding of the risk management, processes and controls, as their operating effectiveness ultimately depends on how “risk management is being lived” in daily operations.

As Plato stated in 340 BC: “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws”. A crucial element – besides tools and systems – therefore is human behaviour, which is best captured in the risk culture that the company has developed. A vast majority of employees go to work with the best of intentions, using their skills and talents to contribute to the company’s going concern. Setting aside those few who engage in wilful misconduct, fraud or even criminal activities, staff and executives at all hierarchical levels will use their intelligence and judgment to “do the right thing”. At the same time, mistakes are inherent to any human intervention.

Understanding the human factor and risk culture in a company is crucial for the board to effectively operate. Some of the questions that board members should keep in mind: How does the human factor affect risk management in the company? Are mistakes openly addressed and useful lessons learned, leading to improvements of risk management behaviour? What do I, as a board member, have to know about human behaviour and risk culture across the organisation?

In a second article on this topic, we will further assess how understanding human behaviour and risk management culture can be captured as a crucial element for board effectiveness.

Luc Albert, IDP-C is an Independent Board Member.

Ard W. Valk, IDP-C, is a risk manager, Independent Board Member and Independent Risk Advisor.

Déborah Carlson-Burkart, IDP-C, is a lawyer and Independent Board Member.

IDN Webinar: Can Digital Committees solve board challenges?

Digital committees can help solve current board challenges

By Karen Loon, IDN Board Member and Non-Executive Director

With boards facing challenges including financial, sustainability and digital with increasing speed and impact, can digital board committees help?  Why are they set up and how do they work?  Who works on them, how do they integrate with board work, and why don’t more boards have them?

These were the key questions which IDP-C panellists and Non-Executive Directors Mary Antenen and Dimitri Chichlo, both based in Switzerland gave their personal perspectives on in an INSEAD Directors Network (“IDN”) webinar on “Digital Board Committees – Supporting the boards’ challenges and responsibilities” held on 29 September 2020, which was facilitated by IDN Board Member, Liselotte Engstam based in Sweden with Q&A support from Hagen Schweinitz, a fellow IDN Board Member based in Germany.

Following an introduction by Liselotte Engstam, the discussion covered a number of broad areas.  Key areas discussed included:

1. Digital is key to business in the future.

Digital is a tool and an instrument which cannot be ignored.  The pandemic has accelerated clients using digital channels, and has led to more staff working remotely.  Companies are increasingly partnering with third parties such as FinTechs for scalability and products, improved client service, profitability, and operations.  Digital allows organisations to enhance their business capabilities, simplify processes and improve customer experience.

Participants agreed that the recent pandemic had increased digital initiatives at their companies:

2. Digital is strategic

Boards and management need to understand the various digital options available to them. Their role is much more than creating a digital culture – they also need to be aware of the marketplace around them. Further, digital impacts an organisation front to back, is a key business driver and is more than IT which is often looked as outside of the business so difficult to integrate.

3. Digital transformation requires IT transformation and different ways of looking at things 

In digitising their businesses, companies need to not only look at their IT platforms but the impact on areas such as cybersecurity, operations models, risk management, and compliance. Increased digitisation also requires strengthening of internal controls and access to data and enhanced data usage capabilities.

As Mary Antenen commented

“Digitisation and IT transformation projects are complex and impact all areas of the organisation and often require specific governance around these initiatives.  The board and board committees need to adapt to this”.

For example boards need to address what the impact is of digitisation on the organisation’s strategy and business model and risk assessment; and how does the organisation look at partnerships, related models, and third-party risk, cybersecurity, and data protection.

4. There is no one right model of how the board should engage on digital.

The new reality is that boards need to deal with digital transformation and its discomfort.  Digital strategy and risk need to be integrated into the board discussion, and the board engaged and focused on it at the appropriate governance levels.  Further, digital and IT transformation is expensive.  How the board engages on digital may depend on whether the board has the right capabilities in digital or IT to deal with its initiatives taking into account the speed of change and disruption, and the need for faster and more effective engagement in the organisation on the topic.  Whether the company has diversity of experience from different industries and different domains of knowledge at the board and senior management levels will be a key consideration.

As Dimitri Chichlo said

“…the reason we should have such diversity at a board level is that each of us is framed by his or her own specialty. If you have only bankers sitting at a supervisory board, they will be thinking as bankers. If you only have operations, or lawyers, they will think in their frame … Diversity ensures that everyone is able to bring his or her own point of view when going digital”.

5. Having a digital advisory board, or subcommittee, may suit some organisations and allow some flexibility.

Webinar participants generally agreed that some form of digital subcommittee could enhance their board’s governance.

However, surprisingly few had discussed with their board the opportunity to complement the board’s work with a digital committee.

Participants learnt about some different approaches using digital subcommittees. One approach was organised as a formal subcommittee of the board and included both Operations and Digital, with members from about half of the board together with the CEO, CIO, CRO and COO from management’s side. This group met approximately 6 times per year.

The other was arranged as an advisory board, not a formal subcommittee. This involved both internal members (a supervisory board member, CEO, CRO, CIO) and a number of external advisors.  This group met approximately 4 times per year, and are now considering nominating one of the advisors to join the supervisory board.

It was shared that external advisors can bring to organisations different and complementary skills, for example customer experience and digitisation, data analytics and IT, cyber, technology architecture and knowledge and experience of agile transformation which can be tapped on from others who have gone through them, and led similar exercises.  They can also lift board competencies and bring fresh perspectives and understanding of future trends/market insights as well as new ideas.

Conclusion

As Mary Antenen concluded

“I think we recognise that this kind of transformation and discomfort is here to stay. It’s part of the new reality and we need to find ways of effectively dealing with it within our boards … whether it’s through subcommittees of boards (or) whether it’s through an advisory board.  I think the important thing is that digital strategy and risk needs to be integrated into the board discussion.  These discussions need to be in line with the speed of disruption and development that’s happening in the marketplace”.

Dimitri Chichlo further added

“Digital is not only about improving your efficiency or decreasing your costs, it’s about a strategy opportunity.  So, there are both sides here – it’s a tool and an instrument, but it’s also a way that shapes the behaviour of your customers or of your market. The board cannot afford ignoring it; you cannot be blind. So, you must have people who are willing to go in this direction and understand those options”.

IDN’s next webinar for members on “Board Dynamic Capabilities for Disruptive Times” will be on 16 October 2020 from 1345 to 1445 CET.

From risk to resilience: A new paradigm in board risk oversight?

By Regine Slagmulder (IDN alumna & former INSEAD faculty member)

The Covid-19 pandemic has been an unexpected shock that is creating extraordinary challenges for companies and their boards on how to navigate uncertain and turbulent times. Previous viral outbreaks rarely made it onto the busy boardroom agendas, but the sheer scale and impact of this crisis has called for undivided board attention. While high-impact/low-probability events are usually very difficult – if not impossible – to predict, it is never too early to start thinking about how to weather the next storm and come out stronger than before. This article argues that boards must spearhead companies’ transformative change in today’s business environment, which is characterized by high velocity, complexity, ambiguity, and unpredictability.

Risk management as a necessary but insufficient condition

As part of their oversight duties, the board of directors is responsible for making sure the company has put in place the necessary risk management capabilities to deal with the negative consequences of unforeseen events. Many companies have made significant progress in implementing adequate risk management systems and procedures, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. They are now better equipped than before to handle incidents through well-established risk registers for identifying risks, information systems that provide appropriate transparency on the downside impact, and contingency plans ready to be enacted whenever disaster strikes.

However, there is a major difference between risk events with well-known consequences, such as an industrial accident or a cyber-attack, and unprecedented disruptions, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The former situations, as overwhelming as their occurrence might be, can be expected to return relatively quickly to the “old normal” after proper recovery measures have been taken. In contrast, the latter events typically do not lend themselves to an existing playbook approach to risk management and are likely to have a lasting impact – not only on individual companies but possibly on entire industries and geographies. While there are clear benefits to putting in place formal risk oversight arrangements, such as quantitative risk analysis and risk committees, to handle the “known” risks, these established mechanisms are insufficient in an environment of deep uncertainty characterized by “unknown unknowns”. Boards must, therefore, elevate their risk oversight role from a routine exercise in operational loss prevention and compliance, to acting as an enabler of long-term corporate resilience.

Boards must, therefore, elevate their risk oversight role from a routine exercise in operational loss prevention and compliance, to acting as an enabler of long-term corporate resilience.

Building resilience: from fragile to agile

While most companies suffer considerably from dealing with an external shock such as the pandemic, some organizations appear to come out of the crisis remarkably resilient. To achieve effective governance, the boards of directors must ensure that the necessary “resilience capabilities” are in place that allow the organization not only to bounce back from a high-impact disruption but also adapt to the new reality more quickly than their peers. These capabilities relate to two key aspects of resilience – preparedness and agility.

First, preparedness refers to the pre-crisis arrangements that the company and its board have put in place to anticipate and proactively mitigate the negative impact of risk events. Examples include information systems for monitoring risk indicators, robust business continuity plans, and slack resources. It also involves actively engaging the diverse set of professional experiences and backgrounds present in the board as well as regularly obtaining outside-in views from external experts. The board’s continuous outlook for what may be coming “around the corner” can significantly contribute to sharpening the leadership team’s sensing skills and detecting strategic risks before they spin out of control. Forward-thinking boards also pressure test management’s assumptions about the longer-term consequences of the virus. Combining these insights and foresights in strategic scenario planning exercises enables boards to take precautionary measures already at an early stage, thus making their companies more resilient to shocks.

Second, agility is required because it is impossible to fully prepare and plan for complex and dynamic situations, especially when it is unlikely that the situation will afterwards return to the pre-shock state of normality. Superior levels of in-crisis adaptation enable companies to take decisions quickly and get ahead of the disruption. The first stage in crisis response is usually one of creative, entrepreneurial problem-solving in real time as the events unfold to secure the company’s immediate survival. Then, as soon as the crisis is under control, the board should stimulate the management team to think proactively about introducing new business models in the “new normal”, for example by accelerating investments in digitalization. As such, it is important to make a shift from the classic mindset of mitigating downside risk to becoming more opportunity driven. Board members need to proactively engage with their executives to discuss how even highly adverse events, such as the Covid-19 crisis, might be leveraged into strategic opportunities to be exploited in the longer term. For example, companies might consider acquisitions targeted at growth in previously underdeveloped market segments, such as a specialty chemical company diversifying into the medical hygiene products business. Effective risk oversight in the context of a major disruption thus requires boards to rise above their traditional monitoring role and develop a strategic stance to dealing with risk. Companies whose board members consider risk as an integral part of their business strategy rather than as an after-thought, are bound to have a competitive edge in building resilience for the future.

Effective risk oversight in the context of a major disruption thus requires boards to rise above their traditional monitoring role and develop a strategic stance to dealing with risk.

Adopting a long-term view

While extreme circumstances require that the board’s immediate attention be directed towards ensuring the company’s survival, directors must also adopt a long-term perspective, with a clear focus on strengthening the organization’s resilience in a sustainable and purposeful manner. Maintaining a long-term perspective might entail a delicate balancing act to reconcile the interests of shareholders and other important stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers and the broader community), as well as responding to calls for greater clarity on the organization’s ultimate purpose. Take, for example, the recent public outrage about several financially strong international groups that (ab)used governments’ emergency response to the Covid-19 crisis to defer rent payments on their shops, with potentially detrimental consequences for small store owners. In times of severe turbulence and existential anxiety, it is particularly important for boards not only to protect their company’s short-term financial and operational performance, but also act as a beacon with a long-term view for the future on corporate purpose, social responsibility, and reputation.

Beating the dragons: Fairy tales in the board room

Book Review – Telling Fairy Tales in the Board Room – How to make sure your organization lives happily ever after
Author: Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change and the Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt Chaired Professor of Leadership Development, Emeritus, INSEAD
ISBN: 9781137562746

By Pamela Ravasio, IDP-C and IDN Board Member

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairy tales is typically something for kids. Particularly young kids. Over the centuries they have been used fundamentally to convey social mores, warnings from danger, and to inoculate a shared understanding of what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ looks like. They have also found their use trying to make us all believe – maybe naively? – in the good of humanity, and in the ‘happily ever after’.

“If you happen to read fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other–the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales” – G.K. Chesterton

The notably useful aspect of fairy tales is their approach to simplify all relevant ingredients to a good story: the characters (typically either good or bad), the context (often medieval-style kingdoms), the social standing of the main characters (nobles or paupers) and in particular the lessons to be learned.

This characteristics though make fairy tales an ideal, if very uncommon, vehicle to convey information and learnings also in management literature. And in a much more colourful, even memorable, manner than would be possible than through any of the coveted, but often rather uninspiring case studies brought forward by business schools around the globe. After all: a fairy tale to educate managers? Not an approach that normally would be seen kindly.

“As for fairy tales, he understood that they were reflections of the people who had spun them, and were flecked with little truths – intrusions of reality into fantasy, like toast crumbs on a wizard’s beard” – Laini Taylor in ‘Strange the Dreamer’

Unless the author of such fairy tales in none less than Manfred Kets de Vries himself. A renowned academic and coach of CEOs of all colours, with a track record in both psychology as well as an economics, he dared to depict in the fairy tale format the issues of dysfunctional leadership one can frequently encounter in the C-Suites of companies.

With two clear advantages:

  • A simplistic approach to complex dysfunctions: focused, sharp and clearly graspable description of the failing leader, and the reasons behind his failures.
  • The anonymity provided by the fairy tales to any one leader prone to such dysfunctional behaviour. Something even the most carefully written case study not be able to ensure.

Four Fairy Tales, Four Leadership Styles, Four Lessons

“The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in” – W.H. Auden

The book, in addition to the introduction, offers the reader four stories about different types of (un)desirable leadership:

  • White Raven, or The Leader Who No Longer Knew Himself: A tale about self-delusion yet no bad intent. A tale that illustrates the disastrous results it can have on a society, and the difficult personal journey required for change.
  • The Bear-King, or The Price of Hubris: A tale about a leader’s arrogance and lack of sympathy (empathy?) for his people. A tale that illustrates how destructive and disruptive such behaviour is on thriving people and societies. And how – possibly – only a shock to the bones opens up opportunities for a different future.
  • The Kindly Crone, or How to Get the Best out of People: A tale about the gift to get the best out of people. A tale that illustrates how people willing learn, improve, and contribute under the right leadership. And also about how circumstances can lead to the exact opposite happening.
  • The Four Brothers, or How to Build an Effective Team: A tale about how successful leadership is a team sports. A tale that illustrates that knowing each other well, and trusting each other, cumulatively leads to achieving goals that individually would never have been possible to reach. And a tale that talks about paying tribute to everyone who made a difference and helped to achieve the results.

With just 125 pages the book is short, and its choice of language favours legibility over academic bravura. Every chapter ends with a set of pertinent questions that are suitable for boards and C-Suites to ask themselves about the current situation an organisation finds itself in. Or indeed the state of the succession funnel – be it for board memberships or the next CEO.

While the reading of this book is a rather straight forward task, the answering of the questions raised in each chapter is less so – if taken to heart and done seriously. Similar to the fairy tales, the questions are simple, and quick to understand. But they require a good amount of soul searching and – talking of methodological approaches – inquisitive (curious) enquiry into the DNA of an organisation and its people.

Summary

Telling fairy tales in the board room’ is a simple approach to illustrate and explain complex dysfunctional behaviours. The use of the Fairy Tale format allows life to be illustrated be black and white – and in this way separate the wheat of the desirable from chaff of the undesirable effectively, and in an easy to grasp manner that is graciously avoids the pitfalls of personalised scapegoating so common in published case studies.

First published here.