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Why You Should Create a “Shadow Board” of Younger Employees

I just read a great article from the Harward Business Review called “Why You Should Create a ‘Shadow Board’ of Younger Employees” by Jennifer Jordan and Michael Sorell, and had to both share the article and provide my perspective. Let me start off by saying three things. What the article says is pretty obvious, yet almost no-one does it, and those who do are sporadic in their approach.

The Premise The premise of the article is summarized in this paragraph. A lot of companies struggle with two apparently unrelated problems: disengaged younger workers and a weak response to changing market conditions. A few companies have tackled both problems at the same time by creating a “shadow board” — a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The purpose? To leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to. The article does a nice job of providing examples where companies have implemented “shadow boards.” The first company is AccorHotels in France. AccorHotels is facing serious competition with Airbnb. They needed to rethink and reinvent their business model. The second is Stora Enso, a Finish paper and packaging company. They needed to redesign core processes for the company. And the third is GroupM India, who needed to implement a three-year digital transformation. It follows the examples with some best practices for implementing a shadow board. These include creating a diverse board, ensuring that the CEO is on board and acting as the sponsor and continuous improvement.

My Perspective

Key Points. Here are the key points from the article with my perspective added.

Shadow Board. I am totally on board with engaging a number of individuals who can bring a different and in many cases younger perspective to a problem or issue. I don’t think that there should be only one shadow board – especially for larger companies.

Diversity. I also completely agree with diversity on the shadow board. And I do like the use of a broad definition that is age, experience, interests, etc.

CEO Sponsorship. This is a must for company-wide initiatives. If the CEO is not fully bought in, willing to listen, and then supportive in implementing at least some of the recommendations that come from the shadow board – it will fail.

Increased Visibility. The article talks about increased visibility for millennials. This is important, but while they are now the largest group in the workforce, they are not the only group. It will not be long before Generation Z becomes a major component of the workforce. And we should not forget about Generation X:)

A Couple Additions I think a couple of key points were missed, Here are my additions.

Exclusive or Club. Care must be taken in the communication around these shadow boards. By trying to be inclusive, those who are not a part of the group can feel excluded. This is absolutely not an argument against having the boards, just a warning that communication is critical.

Culture. The biggest gap in this article is any discussion about culture. Shadow boards should not be a one-time problem-solving process. They need to become a part of an inclusive culture that leverages the best and brightest to ensure that the companies strategy, processes, products, marketing campaigns, and so on stay current and relevant.

Wrapping It All Up This is a great article. Please read it. Now think about how you can use it – even if you do not run the company. Use it as a way to get new and fresh ideas, test plans, engage with others. The effort will be worth it!

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