The case for a Board Director of Change
Reading about and working with boards, their unchanged composition always strikes me as odd. It just seems that the role titles stay the same, while more and more things get added to the role tasks.
I started looking into which roles are most often advertised and it turns out that it’s either Treasurer, Secretary or the elusive “General Board Member’. Digging a little deeper, it turns out that small, medium and large organisations have very similar positions with very similar roles. There’s always the usual suspects like Finance, Marketing, Technology and HR. If things get a bit more exciting, you might see someone take the seat for Diversity, Governance (and Risk) or (gasp) Social Media!
However, most of the time, things get mixed together and out comes something brown and a bit smelly. We just sprinkle it with glitter and call the end result ‘multidisciplinary’. But can a group of people who know a little about a lot of things and only a lot about one thing really get the best outcome for its organisation?
I think boards around the world are waking up the reality that Organisational Change cannot be something that is everyone’s (and thereby no one’s) responsibility. Managing Change has proven to be a rather critical skill towards organisational sustainability, with a lot of perspectives and consequences to consider for each choice made.
I’ve heard it more than a few times that Change is like communication, we all do it all the time, so everyone sort of knows how to do it. Right. And what is always the first thing staff (and execs) really feel needs to improve around here? Exactly, communication…
More and more organisations now have trained and skilled Change managers on their teams or projects. Some even have Directors of Change or a comparable role with a different title. But when it comes to the Board, the thinking still seems to be that Change can be looked after by the Chair, HR, Finance or Technology. Everyone does a bit and we share the load to get things done.
Extra points for teamwork, but the reality is that the other board members already have a lot of things to look after. And more often than not they have no or very little training and experience when it comes to governing and implementing Organisational or Operational Change. That’s not their fault, it’s a downside to the necessity of leaving implementation to the CEO and consultants.
Even if they somehow manage to take on that additional workload, you’ll always end up with an approach that will inevitably be influenced by their HR, IT or Finance lens. The organisation, its staff and the other board members deserve better. They deserve a Board Director of Change.
Aside from their regular director duties, this Director of Change would primarily:
1. Set the Change agenda and assess its feasibility with regards to time, resources and budget, so that every Change that gets started also gets finished.
2. Advise on the best strategy and practices to approach new Change initiatives, allowing each Change to get done in the best way possible without having to fit a standard template.
3. Keep the Change agenda moving forward and recommend priority adjustments as required, which will prevent change overload and fatigue and set realistic expectations.
4. Oversee and champion the building of Change capability across the organisation so that one day the organisation will be independent of outside expertise and can foster a culture of Change readiness.
5. Identify and help manage the long-term risks and consequences of strategic choices which will prevent unpleasant surprises and create strategic transparency at all times.
6. Work with other Directors to create risk mitigation plans for likely Change scenarios that future-proof the organisation.
7. Evaluate the capabilities of any external resources (consultants) hired for Change implementation.
I imagine a skill profile that would read something like:
· Experience with actively directing and/or implementing change (practitioner).
· Demonstrated current knowledge and understanding of main change theories and tools and their application in different contexts.
· Strong focus on engagement and organisational culture.
· Willingness to speak their mind respectfully and ask the hard questions.
· Curious and collaborative nature.
· Excellent communication skills across organisational levels.
· Willingness to mentor executives and change managers and sponsor change initiatives.
· Basic understanding of operational processes of the organisation they want to join.
Of course, this role cannot prevent bad things from happening altogether. However, it’s hard to argue the benefits of having a dedicated role with a strong focus on changing (business) conditions that will allow organisations to be better prepared and adjust faster when disaster strikes.