What Really Matters?

A Sneak Peek Behind the Scenes of Board Meeting Preparation.

Taking a train into London during the rush hour, I overheard a conversation about today’s board meeting at Megacorp, and more specifically, what kind of sandwiches each board director requires. Huge attention to detail, many different requirements. The giver of the information knew everything there was to know, she had clearly done this many times before, and duly passed it on, name by name, sandwich by sandwich. Without missing a beat.

Joe: Cheese and Pickle. Debbie: Ham. Peter: Prawn….etc etc.

One of the Directors is called Nick, and the chat about him really caught my attention. Apparently he doesn’t like lettuce, and if you get him a sandwich with lettuce in it, he really complains about it. Really complains.

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/6SKkC9

 

Poor Nick, I really feel for that guy. Fancy going to all the trouble of being paid to attend your own board meeting, only to find that someone might bring you lunch with *shudder* lettuce in it. Imagine that happening. Imagine the humility of having to pick the lettuce out in front of your fellow Directors, you’d lose all respect, wouldn’t you? No wonder he really complains.

I get off the train at this point and leave all the high level stuff behind me. Whilst it was great to get a brief insight into the strategic planning behind a board meeting, I confess things were getting too exciting for a mere worker like me.

Before my attention drifted to what sandwich I might want for my own lunch (note to self, I need to recruit a sandwich advisor), two thoughts flashed across my mind. The first was this: If the board’s sandwich requirements are so utterly predictable, what might that tell us about the rest of the meeting? Board meeting? More like bored meeting. And second, I can’t help but feel that the world might be a better place if once in a while, we told people like Nick to go and get the sandwiches.

I first published a version of this post on Medium back in 2015. I was inspired to revisit it after reading this excellent piece titled Minutes, Meetings and Minutiae, by Gemma Dale, which challenges that persistent behaviour whereby women are so often expected to take the minutes, get the sandwiches, etc.

Diversity In The Bored Room

I really enjoyed listening to Lenny Henry at the recent Changeboard Future Talent event. His talk was funny and powerful – I was live blogging on the day and first shared some of what he spoke about here.

Something which really struck me in the talk, and which has stayed with me, was a focus on the lack of diversity inclusion and representation, both in the media, and in the wider world of work. This extract is from my earlier blog post about the talk:

Lenny called out the lack of racial diversity in the room. He told us of recent times in the media, where figures show that for every BAME person who lost their job, two white people were employed. This is partly why Lenny Henry continues his campaigning in the media for greater diversity, inclusion, and representation.

Diversity in the boardrooms – that’s where change starts.

If you think you can’t change it yourself? Apply pressure to those who can.

It’s easy to spot the places and people taking diversity, inclusion, and representation more seriously. They put real jobs, and money behind it!

Out of curiosity, I started to take a look at the very top levels of some of the organisations sponsoring and speaking at the event. I’ve always had a sense of the inequality in the upper echelons of business, but never sat down and taken a good look at it myself. In doing so, I recognise that diversity has many facets, and as my friend Laura Tribe suggests, ‘looking diverse isn’t being diverse’, however what my small piece of research uncovered is a much more distorted picture than I had previously imagined. Here’s what I found (what follows is an edit of a thread I shared on Twitter):

I went to an event this week where diversity and inclusion was high on the agenda. One of the speakers said change has to start in the boardrooms. This point got me curious, so I’m currently looking at boards and senior leadership teams of some of the event sponsors and the companies represented by some of the speakers at the event. What I am seeing is white faces everywhere.

I appreciate there are elements of diversity and inclusion which go unseen, but what I observe so far, is overwhelming sameness. Here is just one example, there are plenty of similar ones to choose from.

Photos of the current board of directors at capita plc. 6 white men, 2 white women.

 

Here is another board of directors represented at the event. There is a little more gender diversity among the the next hierarchical level down, the executive team, but it is still overwhelmingly white.

Photographs of the main board of directors at Aviva plc. 5 white men.

 

Here’s another board, the first one I’ve come across so far with a woman CEO. At the executive level, one down from here, there are two women and nine men in the group of 11, no people of colour.

Photos of the main board at royal mail. 6 white men, 3 white women

The 100 Year Life

I’m live blogging from the 2018 ChangeBoard future talent conference. Emma Birchall spoke about the 100 year life. I found this session fascinating.

Emma’s Nana is 1 of 14 kids, there are 74 grandkids – that’s Nana’s secret to a long and happy life.

Education/ Workforce / Retirement. A 3 stage life. Organisations could plan and understand around this. Similar cohorts, lock step with peers.

As life expectancy increases – those extra years are added to the retirement phase of life. Someone starting work at 20 working to 60, living to 100 is balancing work and retirement 1 to 1

When Germany introduced a pension for 70 – average age expectancy was 48.

The 3 stage life model is breaking, the stages will blur and blend.

We manage tangible assets like homes, savings, Emma suggests we apply same rigour to intangible assets – productivity, vitality, change/transformation.

Productivity – skills/professions change – how can we anticipate what will be needed? Emma highlighted an absence of development after school, unless you’re senior management, you might get some investment in you then. What signals do we send to each other around learning and development? Look at your own diary, have you made any time for learning? Peer review – support. [During another subsequent talk the UK was referred to as one of the countries in the EU with the lowest investment in personal development per head].

Vitality – more than ‘have I done my mindfulness app this evening?’ Coping with burnout. Rest and recuperation – should we take more sabbaticals? Rethink the sequencing and pacing of working life. Peer network – friends and family. Younger people in particular leave because friendships are hard to maintain. Unpredictable long hours also affect this.

Transformation – historically we move into work and out again – broadly with people our own age. This is changing a lot, we need to get better at dealing with this change, can we reinvent ourselves? Know thyself, what drives you? As someone in his 50s moving more intentionally into the arts, this challenge resonates with me, and excites me too. A diverse network helps, your peers and friends less likely to assist here, they’re too similar to you.