82 episodes

Our mission at Better Boards is to contribute to creating better boards. We do this by providing clients with an evidence-based approach for board evaluations and board development programmes. To fulfil our mission, we would like to give a voice to all who are care about creating better boards, Chairpeople, CEOs, SIDs, NEDs, Academicians, investors, and regulators. All the views expressed in our podcasts are the views of our podcast partners and not those of Better Boards. In each episode, you’ll get insights from those who are at the frontline - Chairpeople, CEOs, SIDs, NEDs, Academicians, investors, and regulators. Every time you tune in, we’ll help you to develop and reinvigorate your board know-how and practice with insights, creative problem-solving, and practical advice. New episodes are available every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month.

The Better Boards Podcast Series Dr Sabine Dembkowski

    • Business
    • 5.0 • 11 Ratings

Our mission at Better Boards is to contribute to creating better boards. We do this by providing clients with an evidence-based approach for board evaluations and board development programmes. To fulfil our mission, we would like to give a voice to all who are care about creating better boards, Chairpeople, CEOs, SIDs, NEDs, Academicians, investors, and regulators. All the views expressed in our podcasts are the views of our podcast partners and not those of Better Boards. In each episode, you’ll get insights from those who are at the frontline - Chairpeople, CEOs, SIDs, NEDs, Academicians, investors, and regulators. Every time you tune in, we’ll help you to develop and reinvigorate your board know-how and practice with insights, creative problem-solving, and practical advice. New episodes are available every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month.

    The power of trust – How can boards build it, lose it, and regain it

    The power of trust – How can boards build it, lose it, and regain it

    Trust is the most potent force underlying the success of every board. When trust is in the room, great things can happen. Yet it can be shattered in an instant, with a devastating impact on the performance and effectiveness of the board and, potentially, ultimately, a company's market cap and reputation. How can boards build and sustain trust in the boardroom and with stakeholders? When it is lost, what can boards do to regain it?
    In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski, Founder and Managing Partner of Better Boards discusses trust with Professor Sandra Sucher, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School and an internationally recognized trust researcher. "The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It" is her third book, based on two decades of research on global companies' best practices and the gray areas of business. 
    "The board is pivotal in establishing trust"
    Sandra starts with her opinion that boards are probably the most important contributor to companies being trusted. In the global environment, trust is a multi-stakeholder issue. 
    "I'm more or less willing to take risks depending on whether or not I trust the other people in the room"
    Research confirms that trust is built from the inside out. It isn't easy to be trusted by people outside an organisation if the people within it don't trust each other. A boardroom is a small group environment where lots of risk-taking is required, as people need to talk about difficult issues, and the willingness to do this depends on trust.
    "The first thing that board members can do is just be clear on what it is that they're good at, what they're there for, and to make sure that they actually can do that really well"
    Sandra outlines a formula or framework for the basis on which people trust. Firstly, individuals and organisations trust that the other party is competent, without which there is no reason to trust.  The second basis on which people trust is motive because if we are vulnerable to someone else, they have power, and what is motivating them is very important. Motives are the way that we show whose interest we take into account.   She explains that the third dimension of trust is what she refers to as means, and to be seen as operating fairly and having fair means.   Lastly, she covers impact, judged separately from the first three. This is the real, on-the-ground effect of their actions on us, the net effect of their actions, be they positive and beneficial or negative. Those four dimensions, competence, motives, means, and impact, are ways in which any board member can expect to be judged.
    "Do a good root cause analysis and fix the steps that need to be fixed"
    Sandra explains that there is much empirical research on recovering from lost trust and outlines the 'apology formula.' The first thing is to acknowledge the harm done and apologise for it. The second thing is to explain what happened, avoiding corporate-style apologies in the passive voice, "mistakes occurred," but in active language - "what we did wrong." Then they can build confidence in your ability to fix things. The third step is to offer a solution. What will you do about it? 
    The three top takeaways from our conversation are:
    1.      Boards have a central role in helping companies become trusted, and both earn trust over time and recover it if it's lost.
    2.     Inside the board, it's essential to be mindful of building trusting relationships. That is hard work, but it pays off enormously in the contentious decisions that boards must make.
    3.     When facing a big decision, board members should question, 'in this decision, will this cause us to earn or to lose trust, and with whom?'

    • 19 min
    On increasing the quality of the dialogue in the boardroom

    On increasing the quality of the dialogue in the boardroom

    It sounds all so easy – you create a board and expect that this group will be able to add tremendous value. However, serving board members and observers as part of a board evaluation know that high-quality dialogue is not a given. 
    In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski, Founder and Managing Partner of Better Boards, discusses improving boardroom dialogue with David Clutterbuck, who has been involved with boards and governance for over 30 years. David is Visiting Professor at three universities and the author/co-author of 75 books. 
    "The board's role is not to do all this stuff!"
    David starts by explaining that there are many "big issues" at present, but often some boards try to solve all these problems themselves. This is not the board's role. Rather, they should ensure that all these issues are identified and processes put in place to manage them, and then monitor the quality of these. 
    "Boards which are not very effective are still thinking in linear ways"
    David explains that in times of crisis, the line between executives and non-executives becomes blurred. For him, one of the key qualities of a board is to be able to rise above the complexity and help the executive steer through it. His research into post-COVID leadership showed a capability deficit in boards compared to current needs in an ever-changing world. The need is not for linear thinking in terms of cause and effect, but one of system thinking. 
    "Organisations suffer from what we call organisational arthritis"
    David outlines how systemic thinking involves identifying the many layers of an issue. This is increasingly important at the board level, where you have the internal systems and all the external ones, such as politics and economics. All these issues create a complex environment that is constantly evolving, and the board needs to be able to work within that complexity. 
    "Organisational climate is a big part of that organisational agility that prevents organisational arthritis"
    David describes an increasing emphasis on values and ethics and recommends that at least once a quarter, a board regularly considers whether the organisation is living up to its values. You can create an agile climate in an organisation in many ways, but having a strong sense of ethicality makes it more likely there will be strong psychological safety in the organisation. 
    "We're using the most valuable time of the meeting for rubbish"
    David relates that in studies of good boardroom practice in the 1990s, the typical board agenda started with up to 45 minutes of apologies for absence, minutes of the last meeting, matters arising and much which could have been done by email beforehand. He points out that the first part of the meeting is when brains are most productive before people start getting tired. 
    "What are the criteria by which we're judging this decision?"
    David believes that how decisions are made is important. Voting is commonplace, but this tends to mean people go along with the majority and suppress contrary views.   He explains that a much better way to decide is to determine the criteria by which the decision is judged. 
    The three top takeaways from our conversation are:
    1.      Don't get too involved in running the business. Recognise your role as a director, not an executive.
    2.     Think about why the board is there, which will help structure and prioritise discussion topics. Regularly, question whether the things you're doing are creating value for the medium and long term or only the near future and profitability.
    3.     Be the ethical conscience of the business, and do not forget the much bigger purpose. 

    • 22 min
    Diversity & Inclusion – The Board's role as 'agents of change'

    Diversity & Inclusion – The Board's role as 'agents of change'

    In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski, Founder and Managing Partner of Better Boards, discusses with Professor Randall Peterson the role of the board in helping organisations become better at dealing with diversity – moving beyond the presence of diversity to being able to engage diversity to benefit the organisation.  
    Randall is a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, and his recent work includes a report for the Financial Reporting Council on board diversity. He has been active on the board of UN Women UK. He is currently serving on the Leaders as Change Agents board, an expert panel working through the Government Equalities Office to facilitate positive change in the UK's largest employers. 
    "We know something about what goes wrong - There's a parallel track…"
    Randall describes the wide range of research he has looked at in depth with over 100 directors and company secretaries, which has given very consistent results. To gain multiple perspectives, usually, two or three people per board are required. 
    "Adding diverse voices to the mix is not enough"
    Randall explains that although diversity can benefit your business, there is no guarantee that it will unless you embrace it by doing the inclusion work engagement, which is hard to do. Well-managed diversity leads to tangible changes in the culture of how a board operates and interacts (making it more inclusive and collaborative), which has positive effects on the bottom line and corporate value. 
    "Stop saying that diversity is going to get you a better outcome"
    To be world-class, you have to be diverse because the research shows more diverse groups produce more varied outcomes. The very best groups are highly diverse, but so are the worst ones. Randall outlines some areas where his research was surprising. Firstly, the business case for diversity as traditionally formulated can actually have a strong negative impact. When you diversify and put a spotlight on people who are different, it can feel threatening and diminish performance. Secondly, Randall found that boards that are really good at one type of diversity are typically not great at another. Some boards were really good at gender, but not very good at race and ethnicity, and vice versa. There is now a better understanding that the barriers to entry for different groups are different. 
    "Having a growth mindset, focusing on how we can get better outperforms any other culture"
    Randall finds that interviewees are often somewhat reluctant to talk about demographic diversity because they don't want to 'get it wrong.' Most care deeply about diversity and should be braver in raising those issues in conversation, in nomination processes, etc. He wants to encourage people to have these conversations, being positive about what can be done, and what can be done better. The research shows very clearly that having a growth mindset, focusing on "how we can get better" outperforms any other culture, in terms of ways of working.
    The three top takeaways from our conversation are:
    1.      The importance of being willing and able to advocate for diversity, as there are often many more allies around the table than we typically anticipate.
    2.     Every single director has a role to play in creating a culture of learning and growth and focusing on 'how do we get better', instead of 'what we do wrong'. Focus on what can be improved.
    3.     To identify a diverse set of directors successfully, pause the search and seek out a smaller search firm that specialises in different groups of people, because there are a lot of highly qualified, highly motivated, great potential directors waiting to be found

    • 20 min
    Boards under pressure

    Boards under pressure

    There is little doubt that boards are under unprecedented pressure. They face a multitude of widely differing demands and, in many cases, challenges. Increasing demands from different stakeholder groups, tougher legislation, a challenging economic environment and geopolitical challenges all exert pressures on boards. Coming to grips with several of these issues at the same time has become a high stake juggling act, and now more than ever, boards need to perform.
    In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski, Founder and Managing Partner of Better Boards, discusses board performance under pressure with Sir John Tusa, who has served on the boards of some of the most iconic cultural institutions in the UK. Sir John was the presenter of BBC's Newsnight and the Managing Director of the BBC World Service. He was also the Managing Director of the Barbican Arts Centre and served on the boards of Cultural Institutions such as the British Museum.   
    "Being on a board is not a party picnic"
    Sir John explains that when under severe pressure, boards need to take stock and understand that being on a board is almost as difficult, (if not more difficult) as actually running an organisation. Many board members join boards thinking it will be interesting, enjoyable, and relatively straightforward. The reality is both complicated and demanding. He notes that it is also important to remember that board members do not run the organisation, they are not the management, and they don't have to make the decisions. However, relationships are key - between the Chair and the CEO, the board, and the management team. 
    "You do learn by experience, and you do learn over time by observing bad decisions being taken"
    Sir John explains that, to a degree, you learn by experience over time. Some of this learning is gained by observing bad decisions being taken (sometimes by yourself), which is not comfortable. There may be no perfect answers, but learning from past experience is key, so the experience of going through decisions (including bad ones) and learning from them is critical
    "It's not about seeing how many times your name appears on the minutes of the meeting."
    Sir John believes that the chair is responsible for the relations and atmosphere between board members. A good Chair will take a particular member aside after a meeting and have a quiet word when necessary because managing board behaviour is extremely important. Also, not everyone has to say something about every subject on the agenda. One contribution in just one meeting may be a decisive contribution. 
    "Always face the reality of the situation"
    Sir John advocates being realistic because however unpleasant and difficult, organisations which face up to problems and deal with them always come out of financial/economic crises faster, better, more efficiently, and more successfully. The reward of facing the facts is that they are much better placed to deal with the upswing later. 
    The three top takeaways from our conversation are:
    1.      Don't expect things to be terribly nice! This is tough, but in the end, it is the satisfaction of performing your responsibility. Every time you turn up, your chances of finding real satisfaction are much greater.
    2.     You will be sitting with colleagues who have considerable skills. Use, acknowledge and respect those skills. This will create teamwork, and they will respect your skills as well, and start acting together as a team.
    3.     Even in the worst case, there is always something to be learned. You may be involved in closing an organisation down, but even this can be done well or badly, and there will be something that will be learned to use later. 

    • 16 min
    Boards - Geopolitical challenges & Diversity

    Boards - Geopolitical challenges & Diversity

    Geopolitical dynamics have evolved recently and will continue to grow more complex, with even more impact in the foreseeable future.  Companies operating in more than one jurisdiction are particularly vulnerable to geopolitical risks, although these can also present opportunities.  Can boards afford to steer clear, or is the boardroom the best place to build resilience and pave the way to opportunity?
    In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski Founder and Managing Partner of Better Boards discuss geopolitical challenges with Nassib Abou-Kahlil, named one of the 20 top corporate legal officers by the Financial Times in June 2021.  Nassib held senior legal roles at Yahoo!, GE Oil & Gas, Etisalat and TMF Netherlands and most recently as Chief Legal Officer at Nokia. 
    “Keep an open mind; the world is extremely diverse”
    Nassib opens by observing that the complexity around Geopolitics is enormous but not insurmountable. In his mind, it is vital to keep an open mind. He relates his experiences with new challenges and working in numerous jurisdictions, involving not just managing complex laws, but also accommodating values and reconciling contradictions, whether cultural, legal or between values in the multi-jurisdictional environment.  This is a delicate exercise in understanding, foreseeing, mitigating and managing.  
    “There is no one size fits all”
    Nassib explains that he believes there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, so whatever approach is taken needs to be well adapted to the specific business and relevant circumstances.  This must be taken into account when assessing the impact of a particular development and is achieved through utilising regulators and other geopolitical experts and analysts. Nassib describes how insights alone neither help solve nor achieve anything, so mitigation is necessary. 
    “Yes, this is a board-level discussion… …not in every detail, but at a strategic level”
    In Nassib’s view, it is essential for geopolitical issues to be a board-level conversation, and the board is potentially one of the bodies best placed for future-proofing organisations.  He explains that one of the most important tasks of the board in this context is weighing in on the strategy of a company, and assessing and deciding how a company addresses its geopolitical risks.  
    “Lack of diversity and diverse perspectives, and challenges in perspective is potentially one of the greatest red flags”
    Nassib holds the view that the biggest threat to boards and future-proofing is the potential lack of diversity on the board. In his experience, the power of diverse perspectives invariably leads to better decision-making and broader insights. 
    “The biggest risk in diversity is defining diversity narrowly”
    Nassim relates how he has always thought of diversity in the broadest sense of the word, including cultural experience, racial diversity, social mobility, and other aspects of diversity.  Many companies are operating in an extremely diverse environment, yet their boards do not reflect this.  
    The three top takeaways from our conversation are:
    1.      Geopolitical dynamics are here to stay, so keep in mind that today’s decisions may come back to haunt you tomorrow. If you exit a country today because of the geopolitical dynamics, this doesn't mean that you won’t want to re-enter it later, and people will remember your actions.
    2.     Focus on diversity, looking for potential and not experience, defining diversity in the broadest sense and committing to it.
    3.     Build awareness, including self-awareness, by understanding your geopolitical dependencies your footprint and your operations.

    • 20 min
    On creating a digitally savvy board | Peter Weill, Senior Research Scientist MIT Sloan School of Management and Chair Emeritius MIT Center for Information Systems Research

    On creating a digitally savvy board | Peter Weill, Senior Research Scientist MIT Sloan School of Management and Chair Emeritius MIT Center for Information Systems Research

    Being digitally conversant in an era of digital transformation is quickly claiming Board attention.  Most companies are looking to use technology to improve business models, customer experience, operational efficiency, and more.  Boards must help them move forward at a sufficient pace, advocating for change, supporting, and sometimes nudging CEOs. 
    In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski, Founder and Managing Partner of Better Boards discuss crucial issues to consider when creating a digitally savvy board with Peter Weill, Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Chair Emeritus at MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR).
    “What is this secret sauce of being digitally savvy?”
    Peter explains that after studying the digital savviness of all the boards of U.S.-listed businesses, only 24% of those companies were digitally savvy. Yet those companies outperformed the rest, with 30% or higher revenue growth, return on assets, and market cap growth. 
    After evaluating digital savviness, he and his colleagues at MIT CISR used machine learning to download and measure from the bios of all board members how digitally savvy they were.  Some large industry differences were noticed, such as 57% of boards in the information and media industry being digitally savvy, but only 24% in retail and 13% in financial services.
     “It takes three to digitally tango”
    It can be difficult for boards to find digitally savvy talent, Peter accepts but believes it is not impossible. He explains that recruiting one or even 2 such board members makes no measurable impact on performance, but companies with 3 digitally savvy directors had significantly increased performance.  He suggests this type of talent for boards might be found in former or sitting Chief Information Officers. He also recommends looking for members in industries that have transformed digital very quickly, such as media, telecoms, information businesses, and technology businesses. Another place to look is venture capital companies with digital company founders. 
    “It's the 50% of time on strategy that we see makes a big difference”
    Peter believes that the most important thing a Chair can do is manage the agenda to spend the right amount of time on each role, with a good breakdown being 50% on strategy, 15% on oversight, and 35% on defense. 
    “A digital strategy is a business strategy; it shouldn't be separated”
    Peter advocates a common language, where boards and management teams use words in the same way, selecting a handful of frameworks and using those consistently.  He also reiterates the need to hire new digitally savvy board members, and while board “refreshment” presents an opportunity, it is small relative to education.  In his experience, board members are extremely curious, and fast learners, and providing education around digital for them is important. 
    He does accept that there is a correlation between age and digital savviness, but this does not make younger candidates necessarily better directors, as they have less experience in other areas.  He advocates diversity on the board and helping sitting directors become more digitally savvy as well as recruiting talent.
    The three top takeaways from our conversation are:
    1.      Identify digitally savvy directors, or make a plan to get them.
    2.     Actively manage agendas to allocate the right amount of time to strategy, oversight and defense - with a goal of  50% of the time focused on digital strategy issues.
    3.     Create a common language at the board and top management team level, with a dashboard that measures value capture over time.

    • 19 min

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