What does ‘being a better director’ mean in 2022?

Here Hiscox explores how to be a better director today and what this means in a volatile post-pandemic landscape.

What does ‘being a better director’ mean in 2022?

Some would argue that the core responsibilities of a company director are as consistent today as they were 50 years ago. Account filing, legal duties, and company representation remain primary obligations for directors across all industries – however, the landscape has changed and is continuing to do so.

Here, Hiscox explore what it means to be a ‘better director’ today and consider how things like the pandemic’s digital revolution, the rise of employee wellness, and high-profile social and cultural issues have landed in the modern director’s in-tray.

Adapting to the post-pandemic digital landscape

Businesses faced unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest was the requirement to roll out remote working across entire departments with days’ notice.

In March 2020, businesses had no idea how much the pandemic would accelerate the adoption of integrated digital technology. Suddenly, everything happened via Teams (or Zoom). The video call replaced the in-person meeting or pitch. New collaborative software that enabled teams to work together from opposite ends of the country was adopted by all.

Experts believe progress accelerated by several years. One McKinsey report  suggested digital adoption took a ‘quantum leap’ in the Covid years.

Another recent McKinsey survey found 64% of brands believe they will need to build new digital businesses to survive. Furthermore, nine out of 10 respondents recognised their business model needed to change or, indeed, has done already.

Today, the most successful directors are those who continue to acclimatise to these changes post-pandemic and continue to innovate. Technology never stays still, and as it continues to shape our ways of working, bringing benefits to businesses and employees in everything from hybrid working to project management tools, it can help you gain competitive advantage, as outlined in this Ernst and Young article.

Supporting employee wellbeing and post-pandemic mental health  

More people are struggling with mental health issues, exacerbated by the pandemic and its effects. Now, more than ever, improving employee mental health is the responsibility of directors and senior leadership teams.

After the pandemic, the workplace attitude of ‘leaving your problems at the door’ seemed archaic. Mental health affects the working day, with a new survey by UnMind revealing that for 74% of people, their mental health negatively impacts their career. Perhaps more concerning is that 32% of people said they received no mental health support at work at all.

The survey also highlights that work-related stress is a top-three contributing factor to peoples’ mental health issues, thus illustrating the need for investment in wellbeing support. This can take many forms, including:

By doing this, you can nurture, and hopefully retain, employees. The Harvard Business Review found 50% of employees responding to its survey left their jobs in 2021, either voluntarily or involuntarily, due to their mental health. It is clear the right balance between business priorities and employee wellbeing must be sustained – for everyone’s benefit.

Recognising the importance of diversity and inclusion

Brands are increasingly reflecting modern society with an increased focus on employing diverse talent across gender, race, and sexual orientation. In the US, the Fortune 500 list now ranks companies for diversity and inclusion (DE&I) against 14 key metrics through its Measure Up programme.

Progressive DE&I can benefit your bottom line as well as your brand and ethics too.

The Institute of Directors’ report on the McKinsey Diversity and Inclusion survey highlights that businesses with a greater representation of gender were 25% more likely to outperform other companies in terms of profit. What’s more, cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture helps to benefit employee wellbeing.

It seems simple: the more inclusive employees feel their workspace is, the happier they are. And it is – to a point. Of course, there are many steps to take and, for many companies, a long way to go to create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.

But as a director, diversity and inclusion begins with you and your senior leadership team. There’s no time like the present to start this professional and educational journey and to become an active role model.

Diversity is something we’re talking about a lot more today, but it’s been growing in importance for decades. Learn how Jean Church, chair of the council at the IoD, pioneered female senior leadership at Tesco in the 1970s and 80s.

Adopting sustainable processes and technology

By adopting greener, more sustainable processes, you’re not just prolonging the life of the planet. In your own way, you’re prolonging the life of your business.

There’s often hesitancy to implement sustainable processes and technology. People think the cost may not be ‘worth it’. However, the Harvard Business Review wrote (over five years ago) of the benefits sustainability can bring to brand operations. And things have only improved since then.

One key idea is ‘creating shared value’ – when a business incorporates models that benefit shared society, it creates ‘shared value’ across multiple groups. For example, stakeholders, employees, supply chains, and the planet. From here, it drives increased investment and engagement.

The potential benefits of sustainability in business are boundless – from early adoption of innovation to improving risk management tactics. Directors should be brave, and take the road less travelled to sustainable leadership.

But where should you start as a sustainable business leader? The IoD has 10 tips to get you started right here as well as a couple of podcasts on the subject of better business sustainability.

Advocating for corporate social justice and employee activism

As a director, it’s important to be conscious of relevant causes for social justice and how your business reflects these in its work and strategy. More and more big businesses are taking a stand on the various social and cultural issues of the day.

But that’s not to say taking such stands is right for every business. And when doing so, it’s worth checking yourself to be sure you’re doing it for the right reason. As the Harvard Business Review writes, this form of tokenism, where businesses are quick to make an insubstantial statement against social injustice, simply out of the fear of backlash against their silence, is also referred to as ‘woke washing’.

Nevertheless, by supporting people within your business, especially those affected by these topical issues, and providing a platform for their voices to be heard, you can be a champion for positive change from the top of your organisation.

Adapting to the post-pandemic ‘Great Resignation’

The pandemic saw droves of people leave their jobs in what many experts dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. Recent years saw a shift in priorities for many, whether towards their mental wellbeing, family, or simply wanting to pursue their dream job. In fact, a Microsoft study revealed 53% of employees are now more likely to prioritise their mental health over their job than before COVID-19.

Businesses are far from powerless to adapt to this shift in personal priorities.

Many have found the key to retention, and thus maintaining employee wellbeing and satisfaction, is hybrid and remote working. These methods allow people to strike a healthy work-life balance, take time to look after themselves and their families, and embrace newfound flexibility.

The same Microsoft report revealed 41% of the global workforce are likely to consider leaving their job over the next year, thus illustrating the greater expectations employees have regarding the standard of care they receive from their employer.

As depicted in the Institute of Directors piece on desired UK employment benefits, this standard of care should consider healthcare, wellbeing support, and flexibility. These small steps contribute to staff loyalty, productivity, and, in turn, attraction and retention.

The modern director clearly faces many complex issues alongside what you may consider the day-to-day responsibilities of the traditional director. There’s much to consider and many questions to ask of yourself and your team: can you better harness technology to streamline your processes and workstreams? Are you doing all you can on sustainability? Are your diversity goals diverse enough? And what can you learn from your employees about the issues they care about? By opening your mind and unlocking budget to accommodate these matters you can become a truly modern director. Today, tomorrow and 10 years from now.

Better directors for a better world

The IoD supports directors and business leaders across the UK and beyond to learn, network build successful and responsible businesses.
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