CCA Blog

10 March 2017

Leading from the topů or not?

Anne Marie Forsyth, CEO, CCA

This week has involved quite a lot of travel which of course affords the luxury of catching up with news and actually reading articles and reports rather than snatching at twitter headlines.
 
As usual there's the "must do this more often" note to self, but like most of us, pace of life takes over and good intentions fall by the wayside.
 
One article in particular caught my eye from The Times. The headline "One in five directors believes that their company’s board has “little idea” of what their customers think or want" from a study into the changing face of British boardrooms.
 
It reminded me of some work way back in 2005 by CCA Thought Leadership Forum when we posed the question, "Does customer service exist in the DNA of the board?” The answer then was ‘could do better’ – a consensus being that mediocrity seemed to be acceptable and that the cost involved to excel was simply not worth the marginal gain. My sense since then was that things have changed radically with the term customer experience becoming a daily mantra of boardrooms in all sectors.
 
Certainly all evidence from activity in the CCA network is that organisations are furiously trying to learn, innovate and transform in a complex, multi-dimensional world. Digging deeper into the article, it seemed that the reason for pessimism wasn't lack of effort, but rather directors who responded believed that they are facing heavier workloads and increasing scrutiny from investors, and that their boards are becoming too focused on stakeholders and regulators, leaving little time to focus on customers.
 
The research by Ridgeway Partners in conjunction with The Times, found that a majority of directors felt that their boards had only a “fairly accurate” view of their customers. Executive directors were the least confident in their boards’ ability to identify with their customers, with 19 per cent “feeling their board has little idea of their customers" views.
 
The survey by the specialist search company revealed that a fifth of directors felt the increasing burden around corporate governance was “significantly hindering” their board’s ability to monitor and discuss core business issues. If this is the case, then it points to a world where fear of consequences drives business decisions rather than demands from customers. Surely a call to redouble efforts to ensure that there is an equilibrium between good practice and meeting regulatory requirements whilst the voice of customer is loud and clear; after all what else are we there for? 
 
Interestingly, the topic of whether to appoint a Chief Customer Officer or ensure that all board members have a measurable customer responsibility is a hot topic at CCA at the moment with several organisations comparing their tactics with others in an attempt to improve their approach.
 
Challenging the ‘status quo’ or trying to get attention on busy boardroom agendas is about tenacity, commitment and the willpower to succeed – but that’s often easier said than done. As part of my reading this week I read with interest a piece from Ros Taylor (a regular speaker at CCA events) on ‘6 ways to get a willpower mindset!’ Some top tips to think about and make use of!
 
We look forward to our forthcoming Industry Council Thought Leadership Forum next week being hosted at HMRC’s digital centre in Newcastle where senior players from 44 leading brands will wrestle with this critical issue of board engagement. We’ll also look to explore in more detail the other side of the coin - customer expectations - and perhaps use our willpower to move slightly closer to the nirvana of having a balance of both.