Should An NED Contract Include Frontline Engagement?


I recently presented a webinar on Increasing Diversity Through Relatability. The OD (Organisational Development) field's focus is all about diversity, inclusion and culture transformation right now. This conversation is a follow on from that webinar as at the end of it I was asked a fantastic thought provoking question which was ,


‘Do you think that frontline or team engagement should be part of an NED contract?"

I thought about it for a little while and then concluded that the answer is YES.


From years working as a business consultant here are my TOP 10 reasons why I would suggest that it is a great policy to adopt.

1. It’s your house and you’ve invited them to dinner


Imagine inviting someone to dinner then telling them not to take their coat off, tell them not to speak to your kids, hide all the photographs, lock the rooms you don’t want them to see and then ask them to help you answer big life decisions. Your hospitality when you bring someone in to your organisation matters and increases trust for an ongoing partnership. Expecting an NED to Travel for miles in some cases to sit on a board for 2 hours where you don’t have any connection to those that are there or any opportunity to get to know anything beyond the board room really is going to leave you receiving a blinkered approach to decision making.

2. The Iceberg Effect


The beautiful peaks and troughs of your performance stats, that will be shown in the boardroom, give the illusion of an iceberg out of the water. We all know it goes much deeper than that, so without understanding more of the structure or diving into the real operations it will affect plans. I remember a time sitting on a board and a member made a statement that only 2% of customers took a certain product so questioned whether it was a viable product to continue to offer. I was the only person that was able to say that the 2% was not due to the customer choice it was because only 10% of the country were presenting that particular product to the customer. I could only say that because I had spent time on the ground. The aim is not to underestimate human behaviour. People make numbers, numbers don’t make people.

3. Alignment & Co-ordination


The New Zealand all blacks are known to be one of the best teams in the world with high performance and this has continued for some time. That’s because they all know what it means to be part of the team and what the rules of engagement are. Your organisation has a mission, you want the NED that’s working with you to understand that. Let them see how that works in reality on the ground as well as from the helicopter view. - There is so much conversation about segmentation and customer channels in a boardroom and I remember one particular retail client that I worked with, believing that they were attracting the wrong type of customers to be able to make ancillary sales, after I went and visited a few of the network locations the reality was very different. Operational Excellence occurs through alignment and transparency.

4. Contractor Vs Partnership - Us vs Them


The best results that are delivered, many times, have been when a person from outside an organisation is viewed as a person joining a partnership, not a contractor - When they are considered as a contractor or an outside voice; this is when it becomes a challenge for anyone to influence change or challenge the status quo. If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together. When the conversation is a ‘we’ vs us and them then the honest conversations can begin and the board room dynamic will be more positive, open to critical thinking, innovation and execution.

5. Factfulness


Hans Rosling has proven that when he asked 13 questions to world leaders about global situations that they scored less than 30% correct. Take for example how many children are vaccinated in the world under the age of 1???

Take a guess!

I can now tell you it is 80% - This is to do with our mind only being able to filter the information we perceive most dramatic when there is focus around a certain topic for example climate change there has been a lot in the news and media regarding it so that over 80% of us agree that it is a growing concern (this thankfully is the question that most global leaders got correct) - I would highly recommend this book to anyone. Spending time with the team and having engagement especially around pressing topics will give a balanced approach to the situation.

6. The Principles of Influence - Robert Cialdini


Reciprocity - It is about giving - give opportunities to your NED and you will see it return ten fold. Social Proof - Asking an NED to give sound advice and knowledge can be backed up to influence change on your board.


7. Culture is a feeling


Why is it when someone visits a certain office or location they can get a sense of what that team is about within minutes if not seconds? It’s because Culture is a feeling - that cannot be received by spending time with the business manuscript also the culture on the board may be very different to that on the ground.

8. Old ways won’t open new doors


To move forward, and if you have not encouraged this before then I would suggest sending an NED on a discovery of the business, line up certain people for them to speak to around the topic or area that they are representing and then allow them the space to come back with their findings. I’ll give you an example of two consultants - 1 in Spain trying to get the software of the company to connect with the data, 1 person in the UK explaining the difficulties of why the data is a challenge to compile in a way that it would work for the whole organisation to move forward. This continued for 18 months. Why not get both in a room together for a few days to solve it. Sometimes politics will delay everything. There is a time to stick to procedure and there is a time to throw caution to the wind. Fast forward when they finally got their heads together in the same room the situation was resolved within a week. Why had it taken 18 months to start with? I’m sure you have many examples when you look back and say, okay I could have helped that move much faster.

9. Keep the bar high - Mystery Shop


A person from outside your organisation is a great way to check that the expectation and performance bar, that you set high, is still at the standard you would like. I am very mindful of using the phrases 'always' and 'never' unless backed up, as this is often not the case. For example 'my managers are always great with their people'…. Or 'our managers always tell us that their teams are extremely engaged' - when on the ground there is hardly anyone smiling or speaking to one another.

10. Story Driven


There is a wonderful book by Bernadette Jiwa that really depicts what it means to be story driven in business. Great decision making comes from knowing and having the right story, then keeping focus on that. If you take the VW emissions scandal for example - wanting to be the best - they lost sight of who they were and lead to poor decision making that lost them a lot of their reputation, which is more than the money - Tesla on the other hand were saying they wanted to save mankind and therefore they worked in a very different way. Help your NED see what story your organisation is driven by that way they can own it and make better decisions for you because of that.

I hope that these reasons can open up the conversation for change if this is not contractual currently. That being said to any NEDs out there reading this, remember there is a time to take this into your own influential conversation. Just because something is not contractual then it doesn’t mean you can’t request it.


Remember that your level of success is down to influencing something that is not already taking place so that the business can grow. If you feel like you don’t have enough insight then don’t wait for it to come to you.


I understand that as an NED you can feel like an island and if you’ve been battling with the same situation for a while and don’t feel like change is happening it’s time to get some fresh perspective, talk to a peer or someone within the NED network.


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