The ‘Rules’ a 21st-century Director Must Live By

Published On: September 18th, 2017Categories: PRBy
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Nichole Culverwell ACPIR

Five critical factors that 21st-century directors must not ignore were cited by Rick Denton for his talk at a recent IoD lunch.


Rick is the first international representative on the Council of the Institute of Directors (IoD), and he is well placed to talk about directorships. He has drawn upon his 30 years of experience to develop what he calls ‘Rick’s Rules’.

#1 Stakeholder Mapping and Management

The management of an organisation’s relationship with its publics and its reputation has never been more relevant for a board of directors, and Rick touched upon one of the areas that PR professionals can bring to the highest level of business direction. His advice was that the board must be in touch with the needs and opinions of an organisation’s stakeholders.

Wise words indeed and of course as an accredited CIPR practitioner, I agree.

As Rick rightly said, understanding the stakeholders, different audiences and those other groups with influence and power over the outcomes and success of the business must be taken into consideration by those at the very top.

When we talk about stakeholders, it’s easy to think only of those external to the organisation, but, of course, large corporations will have many internal stakeholders as well. Instigating a two-way conversation and listening and learning from those groups will help to create the right environment for success and drive action towards the business goals.

Helping those stakeholders understand the strategy also helps everyone to move in the same direction. PR practitioners are adept at managing those relationships – both internal and external.

#2 The Softer Skills

Another one of Rick’s Rules was that the softer skills are more important than ever before. As well as considering concepts like integrity, the ability to listen, and respect and empathy, Rick touched upon the need for diversity in the boardroom.

Boardroom diversity isn’t new news, but the conversation around multiformity needs to continue until we see a more varied set of skills and backgrounds being the norm rather than the exception in boardrooms.

Setting aside the need for more women on the board, although not diminishing its importance, the need for different skills and opinions is what will ultimately help businesses to have a rounded viewpoint and avoid ‘group think’.

Again, this point of view is music to my PR ears. But PR professionals need to be clear about what they bring to the table and how they might help to complete the board. We can’t rely on our typical excellence in the softer skills. To take a seat at the table, we need to demonstrate our profession’s skill at developing strategy and translating that strategy into an actionable plan.

#3 Strategy

Rick began his talk by stating that boards must get the strategy right and be able to explain it. Sounds simple, but it’s too easy to get sidetracked by performance goals, end-of-year metrics and the short-term fix.

This presents a challenge for the PR industry. We have to demonstrate that public relations is highly strategic but also that we can measure the outcomes of our work. Measurement has long been a stumbling block for the PR industry, and that is a topic for another day, but it is undeniable that evaluation is tied to an organisation’s wider objectives and the ‘how’ of achieving them.

PR’s role in strategy setting is even more relevant if you consider an organisation’s corporate social responsibility. PR professionals will always advocate the idea that business isn’t just about profit, but should also have a positive impact on people, society and the environment; the three-prong focus being crucial for long-term sustainability.

#4 Know the Numbers

Going back to Rick’s Rules, I have to acknowledge where perhaps PR professionals might need to work harder to justify their role on a board. Rick challenged all directors and non-executive directors to know the numbers and not rely on the accountants in the room.

#5 Operations and Risk

Another rule he cited was to understand how the operation works from the bottom to the top because, he argued, only then can the board understand the areas of risk.

Risk and the potential for reputational damage is an obvious area for PR input. The role of a PR practitioner is often to identify the risks and advise on how a business can respond but, as Rick points out, we can only do so by knowing the business as well as its audiences, inside out.

I’d like to think that we find opportunities for the business as well as seeing the possible stumbling blocks and provide a counterpoint to other skill sets present on a typical board of directors.

These five ‘rules’ cited by Rick were aimed at directors in general, but I have enjoyed considering them from the viewpoint of a PR’s role in the boardroom and the case for taking a seat at the top table seems to be stronger than ever.

To recap Rick’s Rules:

Get the strategy right, understand it, live it;
Understand how the operation works so you can understand the risks;
Know and understand the metrics;
Understand who the organisation’s stakeholders are and how they will influence the outcomes;
Don’t ignore the softer skills.

If you would like to discuss how public relations can complete your board, please contact Nichole Culverwell at Black Vanilla on 01481 729 229 or[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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