How Millennial Directors Are Changing Boardrooms
They walk into the boardroom wearing jeans and carrying backpacks. As the meeting stretches over hours, millennial directors convey with their body language that they are not used to sitting and listening, they’re programmed to interact. When the company serves plated lunches, some order out sushi.
Those who have “grown up digitally” are the ultimate prize in the hunt for directors. They can help boards and CEO's address the technology innovations that are fundamentally changing every type of business.
A new digital industrial economy is emerging where every company is now a technology company. It requires directors to develop a core understanding of how technology can impact the business, whether it’s lowering costs, connecting more to customers, or improving the company’s offerings.
A new group of directors, let’s call them “digital natives,” have joined the boardroom. They’ve achieved success in tech companies and they incorporate technology and digital platforms in nearly every facet of their lives. With their energy and techno-savvy expertise, they are changing the boardroom.
Here is a great example. Nathan Richardson was brought in as digital talent to restructure and transition C.M.I. from its yellow-pages origin to a digital company. Richardson is still on the board of the company, now called Caribe Media Inc.
The former head of Yahoo Finance, the largest finance site on the Web, Richardson also was head of Dow Jones Online. Last fall, Richardson and his partners announced the closing a $4-million seed round for Trading Ticket, a new start-up based in New York that is developing a suite of products to help consumers become more active investors.
When he joined the C.M.I. board at age 40, Richardson was impressed with his older board colleagues who were eager to learn about the digital challenges and solutions, as well as insights into the millennial culture. To the criticism that most boards are pale, male and stale, Richardson adds, “and straight.”
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has been “the last people to achieve full civil rights,” said Richardson, who serves as an L.G.B.T. diversity adviser. “I’m an advocate for diversity because it improves decision making.”
Expertise is another component of informed decision making. There is a huge, unmet need for board expertise in tech and the creative digital space. Many business leaders struggle to meet millennials’ thirst for learning, considering their lack of interest in face-to-face meetings.
The younger board members bring an energy and a penchant for greater work-life balance as they embrace shorter meetings, working remotely, and making the full board meeting an occasion for active engagement and meaningful discussions.
It’s the yin and yang of board culture. Younger directors bring digital knowledge and expertise, while traditional directors have the business experience and years of perspective.
Young directors can improve a board’s understanding of customers and today’s workplace realities. Customers are living increasingly more digital lives and employees are using new and exciting ways to communicate with one another. Though this is not strictly linked to age, being younger and more digitally literate works as a positive force in assisting companies as they address new markets.
There are personal benefits as well. Personally, I have learned to view my business through multiple lenses. I am now more prepared to meet my client’s needs in a digital setting, as opposed to face-to-face meetings, in order to be more productive.
A few ideas to ensure you are attracting the next generation of leaders to your workplace or boardroom are:
Offer video conferencing for members that prefer this method of communication versus in person
Keep meetings on time and on point so you keep members engaged in the main reason for the meeting.
Send updates and action items via email as a follow up so people can be present and engaged versus concerned about taking notes and recording action items.
Stay open to working and collaborating in new and different ways.
Allow all members to provide feedback once a year via a confidential survey to ensure you are attracting the right talent for your board and workplace.
Happy Thanksgiving! Sherri Elliott-Yeary, Generational Guru