Engaging the board – making each meeting more impactful

At FNET’s recent All members meeting Danny Miles from Morrisons and Natalie McWilliam from DPS ran an engaging workshop for members to reinforce how engaging the board is crucial to embedding human rights into the business strategy and day to day activities. Here is a flavour of some of the key points which are available in a more detailed member-only guidance document.

Get to know your Board: You may have a strong sense of what you think the Board needs to know when it comes to ethical trade and human rights. The question is, how well do you know them and their individual needs? Understanding their backgrounds, personal interests, familiarity with the topic and how your asks can fit with wider business priorities will increase your influence and impact. When you get time with board members do take time to listen, cocreate not just ‘broadcast’ your points.

Provide context: For boards to provide effective oversight of human rights they need the full picture. Companies operate within broader systems which at any given moment, can be subject to events which have an impact, positive or negative, on the business. Your job is to keep your board up to date and address any uncertainty that the current context presents. Have conditions changed? Are there new trends, evolving expectations, or new risks that they should be aware of? As a business, are we doing what we said we would do? Are there reasons why we may need to change our approach? If so, what change is required, why, and what are the potential implications? Members shared the importance of always capitalising on a crisis, exploiting the use of FOMO with benchmarks and highlighting competitor case studies to prove the change is possible!

Be clear on your objectives and your ask: Boards are often short on time so its important to make every second with them count. How can you use your time to have a conversation, socialise the issue, provide new insight and reassure the individuals there is a plan and what they need to do to help deliver it. Are you asking for guidance or input? Are you seeking final sign-off on a policy or position statement? Given time with the board is short, try to get commitment to establish a broader cross-functional working group with senior representation from relevant stakeholders so you can hone future asks and insights for the board.

Tell stories and then back them up with data: Storytelling can help to paint a picture and reinforce the human impact of issues. Stories can be a catalyst for action, but make sure you have any supporting data (external stats, audits/ grievance/EDI/Sedex SAQ) to back up your points  and link  to how acting on human rights is creating business value and/or what further investment will be required in the future.

Help to close the knowledge gap: The human rights expectations on business are increasing, the better informed directors are the better positioned to provide meaningful sustainability oversight. Board training on Fiduciary duties, Legislative requirements, customer and investor requirements, benchmarks help reinforce their human rights responsibilities as board directors. For some topics, you may want to consider inviting an external expert or peer to emphasise the points/ recommendations you are making. For example DPS got G’s fresh to present to their board on modern slavery. Compliment with a broader delivering and operating responsibly engagement calendar to engage the wider business.

Be authentic and interesting: Be genuine, be curious, and be excited about the work. You want to impart a sense of confidence in the direction that you and the business are taking towards meeting its human rights goals. Leave energy in the room so they are keen to have you back!

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