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How boardroom dynamics shape corporate culture

Opinion & Analysis
Jonah Nyoni

The boardroom is the engine room where corporate cultures are built or killed. Perspectives, ideas, and submissions made in the boardroom have a bigger say on the brand image, brand quality, brand equity and ultimately brand reputation. Thinking becomes the true essence of every boardroom, even though some companies don’t encourage critical and constructive thinking.

The leader must lead

The leader becomes the centre of cultural growth in an organisation as they act or detect the style and atmosphere of the corporate culture. American author, speaker, and pastor John C Maxwell once said: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

The leader shows the way and acts the way that the organisation should follow. Leadership is about the influence and motivation or drive to exploit individual latent abilities, improve one’s surroundings, fulfil obligations, purpose, and the passion to help other people live their best lives. It is being active and impactful on the forefront of development.

This development could be individually, intellectually, ideologically, and institutionally realised, and it may transcend the lifespan of that leader. True leadership offers hope, help, insight, foresight, and intuition through pioneering, modelling, mentoring, modifying, monitoring, motivating, mind development and influencing. So, the leader becomes an important cog in the bigger schemes of the company’s structure and systems. Without a good leader, the company will definitely be caught flat-footed.

Change the language

The boardroom language determines the mood in meetings. It should be encouraging and inspiring. The goal must be clear and known. When the language is vague, it keeps workers unsure of what they must do. Language defines and clarifies vision and mission. It builds the whole corporate culture. Language speaks to efficiency, effectiveness, speed, agility, and more. Language contributes to how workers communicate with each other and their customers.

Respect for talent

Great boards respect and appreciate different talents. A board should understand that different talents build a formidable corporate culture.

Talents contribute towards the overall quality of ideas and general performance which leads to a particular corporate culture.

Individual talents contribute to the success of every culture. When the company encourages the use of talents, it increases innovation and creativity.

Remove your titles

As a leader (or boss as some love to call it), remove all titles you have so that employees can give you candid and constructive feedback. When other teammates are afraid to give you feedback, you become an enemy of growth.

Create an environment that gives you candid or painful, yet important and constructive feedback. Some leaders lead by instilling fear and their boardrooms are flooded only with their thoughts and ideas.

Since they have positional power and authority, they assume that only their voice matters. Titles stifle feedback. They increase hierarchical gaps, especially between the leader and the employee. Worse still, weak leaders are constantly reminding the employee who the leader is.

The feedback loop

Feedback in the boardroom is the lifeline for the organisation. Feedback helps the company improve performance, learn faster, and increase ideas.

When feedback is thwarted, it means some voices or ideas have been muzzled or suppressed. Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer (2020: 24) in their book, No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention say that every organisation should “Put feedback as the first and the last item on the agenda so that it’s set apart from operations discussions.”

They further point out that leaders should not just ask for feedback, but emphasise that it is expected from their employees. They bolstered this by providing an A4 Model that makes the feedback loop.

This A4 quadrant says that feedback must aim to assist, be actionable, and those receiving it must appreciate and or accept or discard feedback.

As a leader, do you give candid feedback? Does a leader allow and receive candid feedback from employees? Can an employee give feedback without fearing losing their jobs? Feedback must be embedded in the culture of an organisation. This is not easy, but as soon as it is part of your corporate culture, it invites and increases continuity and growth in an organisation.

The importance of boardroom culture

Boardroom culture is very important. Independent coach and leadership development specialist corporate cultures once said: “Boardroom culture is absolutely critical because what happens in the boardroom is a reflection of what happens in the whole organisation. If you have an atmosphere where people feel that only certain things are acceptable and it’s only acceptable if you agree with what the chair says, if argument is shut down and new ideas rejected, the whole organisation comes to a standstill.

“There is plenty of research now that supports that we had a financial crisis, because the people on the board were unwilling to challenge people who had power in the organisation. So, even when people saw the organisation doing things that would lead to certain disasters, they felt unable to disagree with people in power on boards. You can see this at commercial and governmental level where people don’t listen to people around them for genuine and sound advice. That can lead to a national disaster.”

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