Category: Director Education

How to Make a 21st-Century Board

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How will boards find the next generation of talent—directors who will be able to maintain their companies’ competitive edge in a global marketplace? This was the question raised in the third session of the Diversity Symposium at this year’s NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit, and it was addressed by a panel composed of Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Rochelle, founder, president, and CEO of MDR Strategies LLC; Pablo Schneider, CEO of The Wider Net, a firm dedicated to advancing diversity in top leadership roles; and Caroline Tsay, vice president and general manager at Hewlett-Packard Co. and director of Rosetta Stone Inc. and Travelzoo. The panel was moderated by Andrea Hoffman, founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs, and the discussion broke down the talent search process into three parts:

  • identifying opportunities for increasing diversity,
  • analyzing the impact of force multipliers in the boardroom, and
  • locating these wellsprings of new talent.

Building the 21st Century Board

Schneider observed that the most promising opportunities for increasing boardroom diversity arise where the board’s biggest knowledge and talent gaps exist. Because demographics and technological innovations are transforming companies everywhere, boards must assess not only a candidate’s skill sets and experience but also whether he or she has the mindset to oversee those transformations. Rochelle added that boards must look at disorder and disruption in order to ensure that director talents correspond to those forces. Tsay advised boards to analyze the skills of prospective directors in terms of their alignment with the company’s overall strategy.

Discussion then moved to the force-multiplier effect—i.e., how having subject-matter experts dramatically increases the board’s effectiveness by providing diversity of thought and cultural perspectives on the profiles of these candidates. Rochelle again brought up the issues of disorder and disruption, asserting that it will be impossible for boards to manage these forces if they continue to rely on traditional approaches. He also noted that an outsider’s view is critical, both because it prompts the board and the executive team to be more diligent in how they analyze day-to-day business and because it provides new insights into potential problem areas.

Tsay echoed this point, offering the example of a Rosetta Stone director who is also the CEO of a media company and who established an advisory consumer focus committee on the board in order to acquire a more granular understanding of the company’s customers. Force-multiplier talents can help boards to rethink the tools they use to reach consumers and how the board can gain an end-to-end view of the industry. “There are opportunities to get candidates with expertise, but how do you best leverage them?” Tsay asked.

Finally, the panelists discussed two key questions: who are the people best qualified to raise the company’s profile, and where can one locate these wellsprings of talent? On this score all agreed that networking is critical. By attending corporate, industry, and/or director education events, current board members will be able to meet and foster professional relationships with potential candidates.

Beyond the Sidelines: The Impact and Legacy of the Rooney Rule

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The sidelines of a football field may seem an unlikely place to look for governance best practices, but the policy implemented to diversify the coaching staffs and senior management of National Football League (NFL) teams—known as the Rooney Rule—has applications far beyond the world of sports. In the second session of the Diversity Symposium that opened this year’s NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit, Jeremi Duru, sports-law expert and author of Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL (2011), joined Robert E. Gulliver, executive vice president and chief human resources officer of the NFL, and Cyrus Mehri, co-lead class counsel for some of the most significant race and gender cases in U.S. history, to discuss the Rooney Rule, its impact on the NFL, and the lessons it has to offer companies in all sectors.

Rooney Rule panel

Although the NFL formed in the early twentieth century, it wasn’t until 1989 that the league hired its first African-American coach, Art Shell. Over the course of the next decade, a few other African Americans held coaching and managerial roles in the NFL, but diversity remained an issue for the league. Then, in 2002, two African-American NFL coaches with winning records were fired: Tony Dungy, whose team had reached the NFC championship playoffs in each of the three previous years, and Dennis Green, whose team was experiencing its first losing streak in 10 years.

In response, Mehri and attorney Johnny Cochran released a study demonstrating that African-American coaches were statistically more successful because by the time they were hired, these men had already spent years honing their craft in apprenticeship positions. However, African-Americans were less likely to be appointed to higher-level coaching positions and more likely to be fired when their team hit a losing streak. To address this situation, the NFL in 2003 established the Rooney Rule—named for Dan Rooney, who was then coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that historically had created opportunities for minority players and coaches. The rule requires management to interview minority candidates and give them equal consideration when hiring for particular job categories.

Being attuned to diversity issues is key to attracting the best leadership, according to Robert Gulliver. As a former wealth, brokerage, and retirement HR officer at Wells Fargo & Co., Gulliver might have seemed an odd choice for a role at the NFL, but the skills he developed in the financial sector transferred easily to his work for the NFL. Gulliver emphasized that, in addition to diversity of background, diversity of perspective allows the company to connect more strongly with its consumer base.

One area in which the NFL acknowledges the need for more work is that of gender. While approximately 45 percent of football fans are women, only 30 percent of NFL employees are female. By bridging this gender gap, the league can ensure that thought leadership within the company will better reflect its customers.

What is the lasting legacy of the Rooney Rule? In the decade since the rule was adopted, the NFL has developed a culture in which diversity has become a critical element of creating a sustainable business. NFL clubs that initially resisted the rule now recognize that they would fall behind in the market if they didn’t draw from the broadest possible pool of candidates. The message is clear: make your processes inclusive, and make sure that talent rises up. In short, the Rooney Rule has proved that the more inclusive an organization is, the more it and its stakeholders benefit.

Overcoming Unconscious Bias

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Ensuring that your board is broadly diverse—in every sense of that word—can and most likely is impeded by unconscious biases. The NACD-hosted Diversity Symposium yesterday opened the 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit in Washington, D.C., with presentations from Judith Williams, global head of diversity at Dropbox, and former manager of the global diversity and talent programs at Google, and Howard Ross, founder and chief learning officer of Cook Ross, a consultancy that works specifically on inclusion issues.

Judith Williams and Howard Ross on Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Google, which lives and dies by data, wanted to understand where bias might exist in key decision-making processes so started its unconscious bias program in 2013. Google researched whether training was effective in helping employees mitigate unconscious bias, Williams recounted. One example: For interview processes, Google developed a tool that would generate questions based on role-related knowledge, leadership, and “Google-y-ness.” Questions such as, “Describe a situation where you went above and beyond to help a colleague” was a better gauge of that quality than asking “Where did you go to school and what is the highest degree that you have?” The question generator also created a rubric for rating the questions so that the interviewer would know what a great response looked like. To level the playing field even further, all candidates were asked the same slate of questions.

The question directors should ask themselves, said Ross, is not “is there bias?” but rather, “What biases do we have that keep us from making choices counter to the values that we say we believe in?”

In a business context, bias comes into play when looking at a candidate’s qualifications for a particular job. Here, the trick becomes looking beyond traditional qualifications that maintain the status quo, venturing out to find new, unique qualities that a candidate can bring to a role. For example, seeking candidates with a college degree is a standard criterion; however, this would mean that talented innovators like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would never be called in for an interview.

Organizationally there are two things that companies can do to overcome making these snap judgments.

  1. Education. From the top down, everyone in an organization needs to understand the myriad distinctions among people in the workplace and the mechanics of unconscious bias. By keying employees in to how people think results in more egalitarian behaviors across the organization.
  2. Systems and structures: Closely examine company processes to discover how they are susceptible to unconscious bias. For example, look at how are resumes collected and screened. Before they go to a hiring manager for review, could names or other markers be removed so as not to trigger biases? Also, look at where breakdowns in the company’s various systems can and do occur.

Williams also stressed that, when thinking about problem solving, consider who is asking the questions. For example, Google was designing mobile products for state-of-the-art smartphones; however, in developing parts of the world where mobile device use is high, those users are not working with high-end equipment. In other words, Google was missing a substantial portion of a potential consumer base. Now the company operates on the idea that its next billion users are not going to be exactly the same as its last billion users, and figuring out the characteristics of this evolving consumer base requires innovative and free flowing dialog. Business leaders in both the C-suite and the boardroom need to identify and overcome their unconscious biases because if they fail to bring a variety of perspectives to the table, no one will be asking the kinds of questions that will lead to the next big business opportunity.

Jesse Rhodes is the associate editor of NACD Directorship magazine.