Directorship in the age of Covid-19


Metaco founder Barbara Walsh explains how director roles have changed in light of the Coronavirus.

When life, as we know it, has changed, how has the role of the director changed in the time of Coronavirus? Let’s first consider the role of the board, shall we? To quote the Institute of Directors:

The board’s key purpose “is to ensure the company’s prosperity by collectively directing the company’s affairs, while meeting the appropriate interests of its shareholders and relevant stakeholders”.

Essentially it’s the role of the board to carefully balance providing business direction and supporting management while considering the needs of all stakeholders involved. This was a complex and challenging task before the global pandemic of Covid-19 struck but now it’s more important than ever before. But just what are the fundamental tasks of boards now in even greater complexity?

Find purpose

When Salesforce former CEO and founder Marc Benioff began raising the idea of conscious capitalism; a new operating model for organisations based in wide-scale value contribution, many were initially sceptical. Towards the end of 2019, we saw CEO’s and C-suite leaders increasingly featuring in prominent media platforms, laying claim to the purpose-driven organisation, which balanced shareholder needs with a contribution towards environment, social, and governance issues on behalf of a broad range of stakeholders, including customers, employees, and communities. Then along came a spider, otherwise known as Covid-19 which sparked recession, retrenchments and downturn across a multitude of industries. 

While it’s understandable to feel panicked and fearful in such a cataclysmic event, what will fuel the next generation of organisations is purpose and boards are encouraged to lead the way in harnessing teams to define what this means. Numerous organisations have proven that it's entirely possible too. 

Future fit leadership is no longer about the individual’s ability to lead, but rather their ability to form relationships as partnerships in service of a clearly articulated and commonly understood purpose.”

Tesla is retooling parts and manufacturing facilities in the war against Covid-19 by manufacturing ventilators with cutting edge technology while, according to Forbes, Apple Computer is delivering new supplies as well. CEO Tim Cook tweets that the company has sourced over twenty million masks, through their supply chain.

Review and reimagine

While finding purpose is the foundation of any organisation, strategy and operations are the necessary tools for delivering on purpose. This is requiring boards to review and reimagine everything from production to marketing to delivery. In this respect boards can collaborate closely with their ecosystem and question leadership to establish;

  • Can teams work remotely? 
  • How does the business model need to shift in order to deliver? 
  • What does digital transformation require of leadership? 
  • Where can current capacity be utilised to deliver in other areas?

This will most likely involve both a current and future adaptation of the business requiring the ability to adopt these timeframes in mindset as well as to consider the perspective of all stakeholders involved.

Additionally, the board may need to review and reimagine its own ways of working. With no choice but to adapt its working mode to the speed of events, directors may need to relax the normal agenda and focus on creative but impactful ways of working utilising new technology. If there’s ever been a time for boards to prove that they are more than box-checking governance officers, it’s now. 

Unlock and enable leadership capacity

While the role of the board as defined above is the creation of prosperity and value, undoubtedly the key in doing so lies in enabling executive, management, interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams to perform and deliver to the best of their ability. It’s this Systemic leadership that allows for a collective effort to deliver significantly more than the sum of the parts.

In this respect, a key focus for the board is leveraging a network of teams within the organisation while also easing pressure by taking on the task of considering and engaging with external stakeholders such as governments, regulators, debtors, creditors, major customers, community organisations and yes, even the environment.

Boards have a special responsibility to guide their organisations safely through this period of unprecedented uncertainty. When you look back at this crisis in a few years’ time, what will you wish you had done as a board member? ~ McKinsey

Now more than ever before lies the opportunity to shape the future. We are being asked to step up to think differently, respond differently and lead differently. You may not have asked for the crisis, but through it you can become part of the creation of a better, more connected and more congruent world.

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Pamela Xaba is the founder of Nonkosi Creatives, and has over two decades of experience as a corporate HR professional. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion both in workspaces and society.