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Board values drive success

Mar 01, 2019

Focusing on the bottom line is not enough to promote long-term organisational success. Employees, customers, and other stakeholders want to know that businesses today have their interests at heart, that operations are guided by core values aligned to the norms of modern society.

The 2019 global Edelman Trust Barometer shows that three out of four people trust their employer.  With that trust comes an expectation that the ultimate goal is not profit maximisation.  As the Edelman research highlights, a significant majority of people want to know that their employers have a greater purpose and that their own work will have a meaningful impact on society.  They also want their voices heard in a culture that is values-driven and inclusive, with diversity evident at all levels in the organisation.

Walk the talk

Embedding diversity and inclusion in organisational culture is a complex task, but one point is clear: if espoused values are not evident in the behaviours at the top, they will never become lived throughout the organisation. There are many reception areas, canteens, and office walls that boast colourful posters celebrating company values that employees do not recognise because these are not the values they see when they look around.

Ultimately, the board and senior team must show through their own behaviours that embracing a diverse workplace really is ‘the way we do things here’.  Boards that fail to value diversity send a clear message to employees, and, as we see from the research, that message is not consistent with employee expectations in today’s world. To make diversity a reality, the board and top team must walk the talk.

Better balance

One important aspect of diversity is gender balance.  While many organisations have moved the dial on this, other companies continue to miss a trick when it comes to women on boards.  The board is the top decision-making body, often operating under considerable pressure to make the right strategic choice in uncertain conditions. Women approach decision-making and risk differently to men, with different outcomes. A balance of these different perspectives results in better long-term decisions, particularly in high-stress situations. It makes good sense to ensure that both men and women have substantive voices on the board and at senior management levels.

Many countries have introduced targets or quotas for women on boards, and presumably, Ireland will soon follow.  But, as the Edelman Trust Barometer shows, the majority of employees want employers to lead on issues such as equality, rather than waiting for government intervention. By doing so, companies can build employee trust, which in turn increases workforce engagement and advocacy for the organisation. 

As International Women’s day approaches, now is a good time to stop and think about how our organisations demonstrate that they value women and men equally.  Is your board modelling the way?

Dr Mary Halton is a board advisor with Align Consulting Ltd, and an adjunct lecturer with the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick.