BOARDROOM BEST PRACTICES

What New Digital Workflows Should You Introduce to Your Board?

Disruption can be a catalyst for lasting change. Many organisations are discovering that short-term workarounds, made to maintain productivity during COVID-19, now look increasingly like permanent alterations to corporate workflows. When we are given a new lens through which to look at day-to-day operations, we can often identify improvements that are overdue but have been held back by the inertia of habit and familiarity.

As a member of the Diligent community recently expressed it: “The silver lining of COVID is it’s making us take another look at our processes and how we can do them better. How could we do them more securely? How could we make things easier for our users?”

This unavoidable disruption is giving organisations a stimulus to shake up the status quo and make changes for the better. It’s an opportunity to implement digital solutions that don’t just make processes more efficient and secure but are also an investment in future resilience and business continuity. This is something boards see as a priority for their businesses overall – Gartner says that 69% of boards are accelerating their digital business initiatives due to COVID-19 disruption and putting budget behind technology investment.

In setting a culture that is pro-transformation, boards need to look also at their own governance processes. There are several legacy workflows that benefit from being reviewed with a fresh perspective by both company secretaries and chief information officers (CIOs).

Identify Workflow Deficits

By finding the workflows that are suffering from deficits in efficiency, security or accessibility, organisations can develop a hit list of issues to address. When examined in-depth, it often becomes clear that some workflows may have been partially digitised for convenience, but that this has introduced security risks. Examples include:

  • Building and sharing board meeting materials

Are you still sending some of your board packs out as hard copy or by email? Organisations often find themselves stuck in a halfway house when it comes to digitising the creation and distribution of board meeting materials.

Director or administrator preference for hard copy books or emailed documents that they can print if they wish means the transition to more secure systems can be delayed. However, printing and mailing out hard copy board books is near-impossible when administrators can’t work in the office for health protection reasons and sending packs as PDFs through email is not secure. Email accounts – particularly personal accounts belonging to non-executive directors – are easily compromised by hackers. With cybercrime reaching an all-time high in recent months, this is a significant risk to the company’s most sensitive documents.

Similar risks apply to building board books. These need a higher level of protection than standard company documents and, if they reside on a shared network or are emailed back and forth during the draft stage, they are at risk of unauthorised access.

By rolling out company secretary software that enables teams to build board books and directors to access them remotely in a secure central location, organisations replace a fragmented, high risk process with a streamlined meeting workflow that is both accessible and secure. Corporate data is removed from vulnerable inboxes and granular controls on who can access and what can be done with board-sensitive documents – such as restrictions on copying, downloading and printing them -add further layers of data assurance and integrity.

  • Meeting minutes

Recording, drafting and sharing meeting minutes for approval is a core board process that often takes place across several locations – physical and digital. They might be created on a laptop and stored on a hard drive during the meeting itself, then edited and shared with directors and executives via email for review. Reviewers may print copies out to read them. All these stages introduce security risk and problems of version control that will be painfully familiar to every board administrator.
Transitioning to a collaborative digital platform on which to draft, share and approve meeting minutes eliminates security risk and ensures that there is always a master copy, so changes cannot be lost or overlooked.

  • D&O questionnaires and board evaluations

How about paper D&O questionnaires and board evaluation surveys? In a remote working environment distributing hard copy questionnaires, then collecting and collating the responses manually places an extra burden on busy directors and administrators. Sending out forms by email is slightly easier, but still creates a security risk and entails response collation when the documents are returned, at which point mistakes can be easily made.

Company secretary software can tighten up this process with secure online questionnaires and surveys that can be completed and submitted in minutes. A process that used to take several weeks can be reduced to just a few hours.

Understanding and Dealing with User Resistance

It might seem obvious that digitising and automating previously manual processes will benefit the whole organisation. Certainly, the business case for investment in company secretary software will talk about improved security, greater accuracy, reduced costs and more time freed up among directors and governance professionals to devote to higher level activities. But it is important not to underestimate the human challenge of change.

Individuals who are already experiencing high stress due to factors outside their control (like a global pandemic) can find changing their workflows difficult. In fact, it can be an area where employees aim to re-exert authority over at least one area of their lives by resisting suggested changes.

So, it is essential that change is carefully managed, and users supported as they transition to new ways of working. This means acknowledging the challenges users are facing as well as introducing the concept of new technology and processes as an investment made to help overcome their challenges. Choosing intuitive software, such as Diligent’s company secretary software, that is well-supported by accessible training and friendly support teams is part of the answer. Creating a positive culture around finding better ways to organise board-related workflows considering the issues that we’re facing is another part of the solution.

A key impact of COVID-19 is the acceleration of digital transformation programmes. It is providing an opportunity and driver for tightening up security, streamlining processes and enhancing board governance. Organisations that can bring their employees with them on the journey will emerge stronger, more resilient and better placed to navigate the obstacles ahead.

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