Gad Elkin, Vice President of UK & Ireland at F5 Networks, discusses the ways in which the C-suite should be redefined in order to achieve the best business strategies.
Most major strategic shifts tend to happen at board level, but does that necessarily result in optimal outcomes? Are the right people always present to help make, or at least guide, the big calls?
While seemingly logical, it doesn’t always happen. The right input isn’t always heard or sought. Nuance and long-term operational impact can often get ignored.
Take cybersecurity, which is essential to any credible business strategy. Unfortunately, too many boards still overlook its growing importance. Budgets to tackle potential security issues are assigned without context or insight, and overall performance can suffer accordingly. Today, the voices of security experts should be loud and proud at the top table. There are many ways this could happen, but the obvious tactic is to elevate the importance of the Chief Information and Security Officer (CISO).
For many, this still represents a journey. CISOs, though growing in prominence, still struggle to wield influence at board-level. According to recent F5-sponsored research by the Ponemon Institute, only 19% of CISOs reported all data breaches to their board of directors. Furthermore, 46% admitted CEO and board-level communications only happen in the event of material data breaches and material cyber-attacks. This is a serious strategic disconnect. CISOs need to be an active and respected contributory presence at board level.
Gender and inclusivity
Though exceptions exist, global boardrooms tend to be male-dominated. This is a mistake on a multitude of levels.
The diversity of talent, background and opinion can only lead to more rounded, contemporary business strategies. A narrowing of perspective will always hit profit margins and innovation capacity.
Fortunately, the tide is starting to change. In 2011, 152 FTSE 350 companies had an all-male board. Today, it is just five. Recent reports also suggest that FTSE 100 companies are on track to have 30% of board positions occupied by women by 2020. In 2011, only 12.5% of FTSE 100 boardroom positions were held by women. While this doesn’t quite capture the big picture or the specifics of many lingering inequalities, it is indicative of more progressive attitudes at the top.
The c-suite in general could do with being more diverse and open. Policies setting appropriate behavioural and cultural standards to enable this are now pivotal. It is all about shaping a company’s identity and configuring it for optimal performance. To fuel this process at F5, we recently hired a senior director of diversity and inclusion to help safeguard our future at every level of the organisation. We also appointed a chief human resources officer to ensure our organisation isn’t assembled in a lopsided manner. The same structure may not work at all organisations but plans to continually and appropriately enhance a workforces’ breadth and depth are essential.
Ideally, decision-making should be encouraged and occurring across the organisation. Disassociated working is a thing of the past. The future is a fluid, rapid and collaborative model of engagement.
For example, some departments are responsible for game-changing insights and talent. Are they being effectively consulted and heard? Are they equipped to make decisions that matter? Organisational theorist Geoffrey Moore suggests that the decision-making pool can be expanded by “zoning off” business departments with the most transformative impact. This, he argues, increases strategic options and innovation incubation opportunities for boardroom consideration.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to optimise communication, staff empowerment and human-led organisational performance. The main thing is for boardrooms to continually improve their access to differentiating intellectual capital, data and insight. The c-suite is always at its most powerful and influential when it remains accessible and curious.