Board work transformed

Board work transformed

Agile board work in growth companies and the current board work environment in the UK were discussed at Boardman together with partner Timo Lappi and David Reilly from Admincontrol UK. The discussion was moderated by Boardman partner Arto Hiltunen, and was introduced by Boardman’s CEO Taru Lindeman.

Night of the Oracles

Timing is everything. Before you can ask someone to contribute their time to your company’s board, the business model, controls and reporting need to be finalized. Loose ends and unfinished processes signal that it is too early, but Heltti’s CEO Timo Lappi has words of consolation: there are other alternatives.

An advisory board is a good choice, but it is important to distinguish that it does not have to be something members have to commit to.

“Heltti organized a Night of the Oracles, where people were invited to discuss important topics and review ideas during one long dinner with no strings attached”, Lappi says. He emphasizes that most people possess almost an altruistic desire to help one another, and that the Silicon Valley “pay forward”-mentality requires only the courage to ask.

The demand for excellent board work

An excellent chairman tries to save as much time as possible for strategic discussions, and constructs board meetings accordingly. The role of the board is slightly different in growth companies, however, and board members cannot be too precise about separating operative and strategic issues. A traditional board seldom meets the needs for quick response times and decisions required.

Another attribute specific to growth companies is the time span. A great deal can happen in just a few days, and Lappi does not consider it realistic that all members should have their board meeting material available a week in advance. The use of communication apps and tools between meetings is becoming more frequent, but it is important that the chairman sets the tone and lays the ground rules of WhatsApp discussions and the use of other apps.

In essential, agile board work is about the right mindset and the right attitude. Lappi recommends trying the unusual, and working on the mindset together with the board. He provides Heltti as an example: they recruited their last board member with an open application, and they divide their meetings into strategic meetings and reporting sessions, the latter done via Hangouts. Board members are a part of the internal communication systems on Slack, and they can follow the topics they’re interested in and stay up to date with company operations. And after every meeting, the chairman writes a summary about the discussion that is available to the entire staff. Open communication and transparency are considered important attributes of leadership.

UK boards under transformation  

Agile, fluent digitalisation-optimised board work is not yet the norm outside Finnish growth companies. The boards in the United Kingdom are faced with a transforming, modern world that requires diversity and the use of digital platforms but are currently swamped under the pressure of hundreds of pages of board meeting materials.

The UK Governance Code states that the role of the board is to lead the company in a regulated environment. David Reilly from Admincontrol’s UK headquarters says that there has now been much debate about whether the traditional model is the best and most effective way to do board work. Boards should be able to make the best decisions possible with the best information available.

Boards are expected to take responsibility on a greater range of the business and are held more accountable than before. The word “responsibility” is used more frequently, and it is no longer solely about profit, but about how the company functions within society.

This drives a change within the UK where boards are taking on more operational challenges and becoming another layer of management. Operations are taking space from leadership and strategy issues, and time is wasted on administrative tasks. Reilly says that the manual processes are slow, and boards need to react and get in shape quickly with help from a wide range of effective digital tools and simplified processes.

Written and photographed by Emma Laras