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Jul 13, 2021
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21. CEO Boardwise, Partner CHROs 2GO
21. CEO Boardwise, Partner CHROs 2GO
Jeff’s guest Donna Hamlin is an executive with extensive corporate, governance, and strategy consulting experience. She is an Advisory Partner for the CHRO practice of the 2GO Advisory group and is CEO of Boardwise, which provides corporate board advisory, evaluation, certification, training, and board search services internationally. Donna is certified for governance by the National Association of Corporate Directors in the U.S. and in global governance by Harvard University. Jeff and Donna discuss how employees are the ambassadors of corporate brands. They talk about how to navigate the difficult waters of allowing employees to be authentic but doing it in a respectful way, ultimately leading to corporate change, better employee experience, and improved brand equity. Donna shares how in businesses today HR and management teams must sit down to set guardrails and establish policies that are clear and understandable. She talks about creating employee change action teams to improve problem solving. She and Jeff discuss unleashing the creativity of employees to contribute and give substance to what core values are. Donna shares research that shows boards with at least three women on them produce higher returns. They discuss how inclusion is a competency, and how when managers serve on boards, they become more effective by naturally implementing peer-based leadership styles.

Transcript

Intro: Duration: (02:22)

Opening music jingle & sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Hi everyone. I'm Jeff Hunt, and this is Human Capital, a GoalSpan podcast. On Human Capital, I interview top business thought leaders to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. I'm excited to talk today about where brand equity and the personal lives of our employees come together. And you might be wondering how these two intersect? But as you will learn from today's guest.

This crossroad is the new reality that executives must deal with every day. We're also going to talk about corporate board effectiveness and how diverse boards can impact organizational success. My guest today is Donna Hamlin, who is an executive with 30 years of corporate, governance, and strategy consulting experience.

Donna is an advisory partner for the CHRO practice of the, 2GO advisory group. She is also CEO of Boardwise, which provides corporate board advisory, evaluations, certification training, and board search services internationally. She's certified for governance by the national association of corporate directors in the US and global governance by Harvard University.

Donna has significant experience in change management and human performance management, serving clients from fortune 500 global enterprises to start-up companies in more than 30 countries, she holds a Ph.D. and master's degrees from Rensselaer and a BA degree from Sienna College and is studied at the University of London.

She's a published author. Rights management articles in the area of strategy, brand value management change, and human performance management. And she also holds various board directorships. So clearly she's a very busy woman welcome Donna.

Donna Hamlin:

Thank you. I can always tell when you talk to my mother to get a bio.

Jeff Hunt:

I usually like to ask guests, how is it hearing your bio? Because most people don't hear that and it's like, they have different reactions. So how has that for you?

Donna Hamlin:

Feels like there's a cheerleader in there.

Topic 1. Who or what inspired you to go into business? (02:22)

Jeff Hunt:

Exactly. Well, I'm really excited to have you on the show today and you have such diverse and broad experience.

It's going to be tough for me to keep this to 30 minutes, but we're going to do our best. I like to start with getting a little bit personal and having you share about the beginning of your career. So when you go back to the beginning of your career, tell me who or what inspired you to go into business originally.

And how did you ultimately get into this area of I guess we'll just call it strategic HR and board governance.

Donna Hamlin:

Well, my father was a school teacher and I grew up as a little girl assuming I was going to be a teacher too. And that was sort of my model. Like most young kids do and I was going to school.

And when I started taking some classes that were about management, I woke up. I just realized I really like this stuff. And then we were doing a lot of experiential, like union negotiations and things like that. And I just decided I didn't want to teach right now. I think just has something as a coupling, and I pursued it, and then of course my father would come and watch me do the kinds of work that I did because he was curious what business was really like.

So we had a lot of comparison conversations. And I'm not at all regretful for that. It's a calling.

Jeff Hunt:

It is. And that sounds like when you got exposed, you immediately knew that you were just going to thrive in this space.

Donna Hamlin:

It felt like it.

Jeff Hunt:

Like your flow, you were in the flow. Is that right?

Donna Hamlin:

That's right. Although my mother would say, what is it you do again? I want to tell my girlfriends and I don't get it myself.

Topic 2. "Why bringing your whole authentic self to work is so yesterday.” (04:19)

Jeff Hunt:

It's like a foreign language. So Donna, you and I originally connected through a very exceptional blog post that you wrote if I may say so. And this blog post was titled “Why bring your whole authentic self to work is so yesterday?”. And first of all, I love that title, but just for our listeners, the concept, as I mentioned in the introduction was about this intersection between employee's personal lives and our corporate lives and how there is actually an impact.

And, how things are so different today compared to what they were 10, 15, 20 years ago, obviously with social media. Can you spend a few minutes sharing with our listeners? Really some more detail about what this blog post was about and why it is so important for leaders to pay attention to this topic?

Donna Hamlin:

Sure. There's been a history within HR to try to create work cultures where people can be their authentic selves. And that's been something that a lot of commitment is been put into to create these cultures. Well, if you think, today it's different because there's a whole new standard that we're trying to create.

And the dynamics that are pushing us this way are coming partly through, the research that we're finding out about corporate brands. And what drives people's resonance towards a brand? One of the factors here is that the corporate reputation is a function of the experience a customer or a client would have from the employee.

And the more that you look at that, the more you understand that they are the brand ambassadors that drive, the flow of cadence and acceptance and loyalty to the brand. And when an employee creates a good experience, that's great for the brand. If they do something that's not, it affects the brand in a bad way.

Now the duty that's the dilemma right now is where are the rights of employees to be who they are if it isn't up to the standard of the brand. And now that we've got all these social media opportunities to go out with Facebook and Twitter and you name it if they are their authentic self and it's offensive in some way.

Or is not up to the standard for the brands and the corporate values of the company. It affects the brand. So what HR people are struggling with today is figuring out what do you do that protects the brand and sets standards for employees without stepping on their rights as human beings as well. So now it's a question of a push and an expectation that's very different than has ever been in the case of America or any of the other countries I imagine.

Because I'm seeing it in Asia now. So I started to think through these challenges for HR people on where's the guardrail, and where's the boundary where you've crossed over the guardrail and you've taken it too far. No, just after I started this article and looked at it, there are also examples that are happening in real-time.

So Amazon, right after I wrote this, announced that they had a whole new program of mandates around what you can put in your Twitter feeds. And they also setting, biological ones on what kind of colognes you can use or what kind of deodorant to make sure that you are presentable when you bring your package to the front door.

Jeff Hunt:

Interesting.

Donna Hamlin:

Now, if you add to it, all the regulatory things that are starting to change, there's a push for DNI practices. There are standards of care that are set for what employees should have to feel safe and included. These dynamics are all coming at once at a time that's moving the shift to isn't really about being authentic anymore, or is it being a better person?

By who standards, but if we change it out and we say, all right, it's no longer about the authentic, you, it's about the higher and better you that you bring to work. And you create an environment where you can accept other people. You use respect as a tool for making sure that people can get along.

Then we're all going to float up a little more. And that’s challenging, but it's exciting at the same time.

Topic 3. Having respectful divergent viewpoints and how to leverage employee dissent for improvement. (09:27)

Jeff Hunt:

Are you saying that the employee could have a divergent viewpoint and in some cases not post that viewpoint on social media or that they may need to approach the leadership or executives at the organization to discuss what they can or can't post.

Donna Hamlin:

Well, these are examples of what HR is struggling with right now. When is it right? When is it not all right? Typically what is happening now is the training of managers or employees too, in terms of, if you've got an issue with something that we're doing and an internal practice, let's discuss that in a respectful way.

And employees that disagree with a certain client that shouldn't be taken on. I just talked with some people at a company that I'm working with now who are doing a lot of social platforms and they don't want a certain client because they don't think that that client is ethical. And so they're talking with the CEO saying, this is not okay with us.

And they're doing their internal dialogue in a healthy way. It would be different if they went out, you know, marched around the courtyard with signs saying no, no, no, because that affects the brand. It's not as effective either. So the choices that people make to reason it and solve it has to be done in a way that's prudent.

Jeff Hunt:

Sure. And so an example could be an employee who is dissatisfied with the green initiatives that a company has and feel like the company should be more green for instance. So, what you're saying is that the respectful positioning on that would be the employee actually going to the decision-makers within the organization to express these viewpoints first and make them known.

And then together, perhaps even negotiate what the employee might post online that would still be acceptable to the company, but not too stifling to the employee. Is that an example?

Donna Hamlin:

That's right. And you know, it can work the other way too. It's a form of leadership. If an executive were to say in a public forum, even we’re exploring these issues with our teams together.

It shows a different kind of leadership model when you're listening and you're engaging with your employees and you're saying it out loud to share it with other senior leaders to say it works.

Jeff Hunt:

If you could, in some ways, democratize this feedback for improvements within the organization. So, if you have a number of people, that are opposed to specific policies within an organization for whatever reason.

And they can make their voice heard. You can affect positive change. It could be that the companies should be making that change anyway, they just hadn't been nudged if you will. In they're in the right direction.

Donna Hamlin:

Well, yes, you can make a change and you also increase engagement and retention when employees know that their ideas matter.

And that change is possible because they had a voice. They stay. Which is what you want, right? Happy and staying.

Jeff Hunt:

Right, Yes, exactly. Right. Higher retention is so much lower cost for a company it's unbelievable. High turnover, high cost, high retention, low cost.

Donna Hamlin:

You know, we see that with governance experience too. When an executive joins a board of another company, they become a better executive back at their job. Because in governance, there's, it's not the same hierarchy, it's a peer-based leadership model. And so you increase your listening skills, your diplomacy skills, your problem solving as group skills.

And when you get that and you bring it back to work and you do it with your team, guess what? The employees fall in love with that. And so they tend to stay longer. We see the retention goes up and everybody wins. Why wouldn't we apply that to social issues or changes that we are thinking about that really would make a difference in the business?

Topic 4. Setting guardrails for employee's company-related social media posts. (14:01)

Jeff Hunt:

So speak to the executive or the leaders that currently find themselves in a very awkward position. Based on the examples that you just gave, they may be experiencing this firsthand. So for instance, their employee may have just posted something or made a comment to a customer that caused a problem or whatever it might be.

And they're really struggling with how to respond and what their policies should be. What advice do you have for them about how to proceed and analyze that?

Donna Hamlin:

Well, there's a band of reactions that companies are using, not all are successful. But if it's a one-person out or off kind of situation, it is treated differently than if it's a group.

And in the instance of someone who just can't confirm or won't conform, then you have to take it case by case, figure out what the exposure rate is, and then decide whether this is fixable. Or it's untenable. If some employee goes to a party and is harassing and using inflammatory language at a party and it seats back, that's one problem.

If they're contributing to a social group and they're encouraging a whole lot of employees to go with them. That's a different problem, right? It's always case by case on what you do. I think the prudent thing for what's happening in the businesses today is that HR and the management teams are sitting down and saying, what do we need to do to set guardrails?

So that we have policies that are clear and everybody understands them. And then we can weigh whether people are conforming with that or not. So then you have standards that are relatively clear. Now I'm not sure how Amazon's going to do with its new ones that have come out, but it certainly can't hurt that everybody who shows up at the front door has the right look, and the standard for self-care is part of the image.

I imagine that most people will say, okay, we can do that. Probably do get out some extra money for the employee so that they can buy the right products. And so I think there's nothing wrong with it. Although we grew up in a culture where we're Cowboys, Americans are Cowboys. They don't like to be told how to do their lives, which is where I think the cultural fit is a challenge here.

If this is going on in Singapore, you're not going to have the same problem.

Topic 5. Affecting positive change within your organization as an employee. C.A.T.s (16:51)

Jeff Hunt:

Talk to the employee who might feel like their viewpoints are being completely restricted. How can they go about effecting change internally at their own organization?

Donna Hamlin:

My best experience with problems like this is to create a change action team of the employees themselves and put the problem on the table and let them solve it.

Let them come up with ideas and solutions. They're always better than if there's a mandate. I always create what I call CATs “Change Action Teams”, and you give them the duty and you tell them you chose them personally because you trust the way they come at things. And then what they do is live up to that honor by coming out with the best ideas ever.

And then you keep telling them they're doing great work and they'll come up with more ideas. That would be my counsel.

Jeff Hunt:

That's a wonderful piece of advice. So I really love that before we shift off of this topic and, and talk about boards and board effectiveness, I'd love to connect the dots a little bit more between employee experience and these things that we're talking about.

So you mentioned earlier how, we're talking about turnover, high turnover versus low turnover, and how essentially companies or organizations with very positive levels of employee experience are going to have lower turnover levels. But, but talk about the intersection of this with the employee experience.

Donna Hamlin:

Employees who feel like they are helping define what that business is about and have the pride that their signature is on some concepts are the ones that are happy and stay. They also have to know that their manager cares those two are the drivers for retention and engagement. So if you don't unleash the creativity of the employees to contribute and give substance to what a value statement is, it's not real.

And so I would really say that the companies that are working very hard to help redefine in behaviors or styles or practices inside this value translates this way, and let them come up with those ideas.

Topic 6. Diversity and Board effectiveness (19:38)

Jeff Hunt:

Okay. Let's talk about boards for a minute. We have a diversity of listeners on this show and some have a lot of experience and understanding of boards and their structure. And then we have a number of people that are less familiar with that. And so maybe just take a second to talk about diversity, and the impact of diversity and board effectiveness. I know one of the things that you do is you actually recruit, you do searches for board placement. Talk a little bit about that.

Donna Hamlin:

Well, there are two drivers to what's going on in diversity within boards. First of it is just social justice. There's a whole movement around the equity of men and women on boards. Now that's regulatory in some places and then it's a philosophy based in other cases, but it's global, it's all over the place and then happening.

There's a lot of research that's showing that if you have at least three women on the board, the return of the business goes up. There are all kinds of data that says the business just performs better. In lots of different ways. So the statistics don't lie because they keep testing and it's persnickety and it keeps showing up and it keeps showing up after a while, you have to say, okay, it's true, but that's one push.

But the other is more just on the philosophy of what I call diversity of thought. We don't all solve problems the same way. In fact, there are five key styles of orientation and problem-solving. And if you put different styles around the table to try and solve a problem. The quality of the debate and the ideation goes up.

So whether it's men or women, or just people coming from different experiences that increase the quality of thought and the decisions that get made. So that's another push that's happening to get diversity around the table. And what we're all about is advocating that, know what that style is of yours.

Because if you're going to be considered for a board seat, you want to know whether you're joining a group that's homogeneous or not. If you join a homogeneous group, it's not really a board, it's a party. Everybody gets along and they have a great conversation. They all agree. It’s just fun. But if you really want to do the duties that go with being on a board, which are strategic and long-term futuristic thinking and then assigning the responsibilities of monitoring the success of the business for the sake of all, you want to have a quality of thought.

Know what you're bringing to the right environment, and then you're going to see some differences. Now the problem with diversity is while it's a fact of life today, inclusion is a competence. Many boards will complain that we did this and we're doing the right thing, but we don't know how to handle it.

It's two different, it’s creating tensions and all these problems of fit social fitness skills is really where if you're going to take this on, you have to maturity to either have it or get it. Because the functionality of that group is. Because it's peer-based is sacred to the success of that group together.

Jeff Hunt:

Very true. So does that require more training for these groups as well to understand and grow in that competency?

Donna Hamlin:

First, you start with understanding what those styles are. And in fact, I just finished one the other day where there's a board with seven people and there are five challengers.

And challengers are just always pushing and arguing. And then there are two that are, what are unifiers. They like everything to be harmony-oriented. And so these two are outnumbered with five challengers, that eat people for lunch. So, you've got to work on that. And what you do is share that with the group and start laughing about it for a while, because everybody has to go, yeah, that's true.

And then you go shopping for another director who has a style that will balance that.

Topic 7. Should employees care about boards? (24:11)

Jeff Hunt:

Interesting. That's great. Why should employees even care about boards, board diversity? Those employees that don't know very much about boards. Why should they care?

Donna Hamlin:

Boards have a responsibility to shape the future of a business. They're the long-term thinkers. And if they're good directors, they're almost like Yoda's. They're thinking in the context of the future and they have an influence on what's going to happen with the business. You'd want to make sure that you're watching good boards do well.

And part of the duties that are happening for boards today is expanding. It used to take care of the shareholders. Then it went to take care of the stakeholders too. But if you look at what's happening with the regulatory practices, a large amount is coming out of Europe, that's pushing the definition.

They have duties now to cover the climate and the planet issues and things like that would environmentally impact the business. So the duty of care is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It's a little bit scary for Americans when they watch this, but it's also including things that I'm sure most employees are hearing about the ESG.

Movements and things. And I just read an article on Japan and their regulatory environment has just raised the bar on human rights because there were some cases like Uniclo, where there was evidence of cases of employees that were not getting human rights in the process of what was going on in their business.

And so the regulators on the Tokyo stock exchange created a new code. Governance code, that said that there's a provision requiring that listed companies have to respect human rights or they can't stay on the exchange. So any employees should be paying attention to what is their board doing to create the policies and practices that create an environment where this company is sustainable and I can stay.

And be happy doing it. Those are the things that you want to look at. And governance can feel a long way away from anybody working in their jobs, but it's a good thing to understand. And in fact, if you start to understand it, you become a better manager, if you're a manager, we know that from the research that those people who actually serve at a board and then come back to work, become better managers because they take all the styles of peer-based leadership and they apply it to their employee team and the team loves that.

And so they want to stay. So it's just a win-win all the way around.

Topic 8. Lightning round questions. (27:10)

Jeff Hunt:

Okay, Donna, let's shift into some lightning-round questions. I'm going to ask, throw these at you and you just give me top-of-mind answers and they're pretty easy. The first one is, what are you most grateful for?

Donna Hamlin:

The wealth of friends that I have and my family.

Jeff Hunt:

What's the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career.

Donna Hamlin:

Taking on things that I didn't think I could do and doing okay or better. I've had this early history of taking on things so that I could do something important and being scared to death that I would let somebody down and I don't do that anymore.

Jeff Hunt:

That's so great. It's such a great leadership lesson for everybody not to make decisions out of fear, but take the risk and you'll almost never regret it, right?

Donna Hamlin:

Yeah, I'm not apprehensive like I used to be when I was young. Now I look at it. I used to be jealous of one gentleman who used to say, oh great this is really complicated. And I thought he's crazy, but now I understand that if it comes with positivity and joy, that this is going to be something that you're going to love later, even if it's hard that you do better.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah. He wanted to grow and stretch and learn, right? That's great. Who's one person you would interview if you could living or not.

Donna Hamlin:

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Hawkins.

Jeff Hunt:

What is your top book recommendation or any book recommendation? If you have one

Donna Hamlin:

Factfullness

Jeff Hunt:

Factfullness?

Donna Hamlin:

Yes. The book factfullness, which came out post humus for the author who died and his son and daughter-in-law put the book together. He had been working on it and they put it together and it's really well-written and it takes a look at.

When we are given information, the flaws that we sometimes make and how we interpret the data or the presentation of it creates biases and how we think. And there are eight chapters that teach you what to be watchful for so that you don't suffer from that or go into binary thinking or you've come to a conclusion that just is wrong.

And it's data that he's used around the world with really bright people, professional people who should know stuff. And he runs a little quiz in the first part, and he has shown that most intelligent people fail the test. On what they think they know. And I took it and I did about 60%. So I fell in that same category.

He said, chimpanzees just punching the numbers. Do just as well as the human beings. But it's a really good book to take a look at, snap, let me second. Guess this information I'm being given so that I can make a better decision.

Jeff Hunt:

Sounds very valuable. So where can people find you? Or say a little bit about CHROs the 2GO group and your board-wise group?

Donna Hamlin:

Well, to talk about anything related to corporate governance, you can go to boardwise.biz. And we're all there. So you can see our backgrounds and check out what we're doing, and always feel free to make a call. On the CHROs 2GO site. That is part of the 2GO advisory group. And that group started with just financial people.

And now we built out all of these legs and the CHRO team is there to help any company with anything related to HR. My area's more on. Change management and some of the more strategic pieces of it, but there's plenty of people around there for the other fundamentals of HR as well

Jeff Hunt:

Great. And what's the single most important thing that you would want our human capital listeners to take away from our conversation today?

Donna Hamlin:

Ask a question, and ask a question, and ask another question. Just keep being curious because the creativity will come from that and the learning will come from that.

Jeff Hunt:

Well, Donna, thank you so much for coming to the show today. This has been a great conversation.

Donna Hamlin:

Well, thank you for the invitation.


Outro (32:06)

Closing music jingle/sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Thanks for listening to the show this week. We release a new episode of Human Capital every other Tuesday. I would love to know what you thought of this episode, so please email your comments to humancapital@goalspan.com. Human Capital is produced by GoalSpan, a performance management technology and consulting company. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and please share this podcast with your colleagues, team, or friends, thanks for being human kind.

Human Capital — 21. CEO Boardwise, Partner CHROs 2GO
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