How Will Boards Cope With the Changing Business Landscape?

Alan Hewitt  |  July 13, 2020

“The Times They Are a-Changin'”

As Bob Dylan sang in 1964: “The Times They Are a-Changin'”

Those words, more than ever, ring true. Every aspect of our businesses and lives are undergoing changes that wouldn’t have been believable six months ago. Unlike many other historical shocks that have allowed us to pause and think, this pandemic has lasted long enough to make some of the changes that have been forced on us to remain.

Office Space and Ways of Working

On the BBC Website, a headline on July 6, 2020 states: “Coronavirus: Fujitsu announces permanent work-from-home plan.”

It goes on to report that:

Technology firm Fujitsu has said it will halve its office space in Japan as it adapts to the "new normal" of the coronavirus pandemic.

It says the "Work Life Shift" programme will offer unprecedented flexibility to its 80,000 workers in the country.

Staff will be able to work flexible hours, and working from home will be standard wherever possible.

The announcement follows a similar move in May by social media platform Twitter.

Supply Chains

The World Economic Forum details the impact on supply chains:

  • The coronavirus crisis has revealed the fragility of the modern supply chain.
  • Recent data shows the devastating economic impact as week-on-week trade in China, the US and Europe halved because of the crisis.
  • Diverse sourcing and digitization will be the key to building stronger, smarter supply chains and ensuring a lasting recovery.

John Perry, the managing director of supply chain and logistics consultancy SCALA, further elaborates on the supply chain impact in this article:

For many, we are likely to see a re-assessment in supply chain strategies. Reliance upon global supply chains will reduce, particularly on single sourcing of components, raw materials and finished products. Subsequently, this could also potentially lead to more positive encouragement of domestic production, manufacturing and farming where possible.

The Market

The following is from The Drum, a global media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe:

The coronavirus has significantly changed the marketing landscape beyond recognition. Budgets are frozen. Events are cancelled. Consumer behaviour has changed.

In fact, 86% of consumers say they’ve changed their behaviour as a direct result of Covid-19.

Following the theory that it takes 21 days to form a habit, consumer buying habits are certainly different to where they were before the pandemic hit.

New Ways of Working for Boards

Boards are confronted with the challenge of reacting swiftly to all these changes in the best interests of their businesses.

We are not seeing gradual evolutionary change, but rather quite radical ones, affecting working practices in virtually every aspect of business, such as those mentioned above.

But change, for whatever reason, presents opportunities and threats.

How will boards, in the second half of 2020 (and beyond), cope with the rate and severity of change?

Perhaps a better way to frame the question: How will boards cope with the variety of threats and opportunities in the current landscape?

Together with the rest of the world, corporate boards might need to look at the way they work today and assess if that might require any major overhauls or minor tweaks, so as to act faster, become more focussed, and allow for flexibility.

Board Agenda, the business journal, puts it like this:

“If companies are to survive the coronavirus crisis, corporate boards need to exercise collaborative, proactive leadership.”

Stakeholders of all types, be it shareholders, customers, suppliers, and employees, will need and expect boards to be active.

Are quarterly board meetings frequent enough to address the pace of change? Boards will need to be kept up-to-date with accurate, timely, and reliable information upon which to make decisions.

I stated in an earlier blog piece:

We often schedule packed agendas partly because people are traveling, and we want to make the best use of the [Board’s] valuable time. But if we held more meetings remotely, could we have shorter meetings but apply greater focus on a single topic? Would this lead to better outcomes?

The chairman of the board plays a key role in making good use of valuable time. They must ensure the board has, and adheres to, focussed agendas. They must also facilitate meaningful, across-the-board involvement and contributions.

It is crucial to mention that the proactive use of technology will be key to enabling the changes that we need.

A board portal will give you the environment to make these changes work effectively. Board members are more likely to make strategic decisions based on quality information.

Key Questions to Answer

Quality and accuracy of information are at the core of all good decision making. Now is the time to take a look at the following:

  • How does our Board operate?
  • What is the composition of our Board? (i.e. Do we have the right skills and experience for the new world?)
  • How is the agenda structured?
  • How will decisions be taken?

In essence:

Does your Board have the right people with the appropriate skills and experience?

Are you able to quickly arrive at key decisions that need to be made?

Are you utilising a strong and safe technical environment (i.e. board portal) that allows you to make faster and better informed decisions securely?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to all of the above questions, then you are well positioned to face opportunities and challenges as they arise. If you’ve answered ‘no’ to some of these questions, perhaps it’s time to be proactive, so as to be able to successfully confront this ongoing global crisis head-on.

Alan Hewitt

Alan Hewitt

Alan is a Non-executive Director at Praxonomy. Alan has worked in IT Services and Consulting for nearly 40 years including 30 years at IBM, where he was an Executive Partner in IBM’s Global Consulting Business responsible for the development of the Workforce Transformation Practice. Since leaving IBM in 2010, he has worked as an independent Business Consultant working for major companies across industries and the world. Alan is a Fellow of both the IET and BCS.