Key Practices to Foster a Culture of Belonging in a Hybrid World

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend toward hybrid work. In fact, 52 percent of employees surveyed in an April 2021 McKinsey & Co. study now prefer a hybrid or flexible work schedule; only 37 percent want to work on-site full time. The new challenge for companies is how to create feelings of belonging and inclusion with a fully or partially virtual workforce. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, below are ten practices that forward-thinking companies are deploying to build cultures that foster belonging. 

1. Be clear with all stakeholders. Boards should work with management to decide on and commit to a work modality that suits the firm given the industry, type of work, and type of talent required. Are you a virtual company that meets on occasion? Are you a fully remote company? Or are you a remote-friendly or hybrid company? These are some of the questions facing firms today as they grapple with the changing dynamics of work, workforce, and workplace. Forward-thinking companies will decide which they are—and declare it proudly—which will allow them to attract and retain the talent that they require to thrive in the marketplace. 

2. Create a robust virtual orientation and onboarding system. This should include mentoring for new employees. Small details matter. Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language, says to“write authentic digital communications.” In her book, Dhawan suggests that when someone is new to your team, send them a welcome message on their first day or after a big meeting. Boards should encourage management to let new employees know how excited they are to work with them. Dhawan says that authentic digital communication is achieved when you are yourself, so leaders may choose to use emojis and exclamation points if they like them, or call new employees if they prefer.

3. Mix it up. Management should consider orchestrating virtual meetings between people from different departments. If everyone is not meeting in person, it is still possible to get to know people outside their department and outside their own four walls. Innovation and collaboration are enhanced when people form relationships across an organization.

4. Create intentional social opportunities. Without a physical workspace where employees can gather, what are employees—and even the board—supposed to do? The answer, according to Dhawan, is to create time to informally chat and check in. She notes that it doesn’t have to be a strictly planned social gathering, but five to ten minutes at the beginning of a team meeting will do. The team should feel comfortable acknowledging and discussing that they have lives outside work.

5. Initiate office hours for drop-in opportunities. It is no longer easy to pop across the hall for a quick question or ask someone to walk into your office for feedback. Managers can hold regular office hours when their team can book 5-10 minute slots. These become the opportunity to “drop in” for a few minutes, rather than needing to formally schedule longer meetings which are harder to schedule. Board members may also wish to institute this practice with the C-suite.

6. Incorporate your people into town hall or large group meetings. Boards can encourage management to consider acknowledging and recognizing individuals during large group meetings to showcase achievements. This will help people throughout the company learn about who else works for the organization and what they do. 

7. Support employee resource groups. These are a vital way to allow for individuals with more niche interests or backgrounds to find and support one another across the organization.

8. Conduct regular employee surveys. Employee surveys reveal much about morale, culture, and many other elements of employees’ work-life experience. Management should review the results with the board at a company level as well as by tenure, department, gender, and ethnicity to understand employee satisfaction levels and where there may be challenges to address.

9. Track and measure employee retention by tenure and demographics. Telltale signs of talent problems can be uncovered by ensuring that the board (and the human capital committee, if there is one) looks at retention rates by tenure as well as by demographics. If the tenure of those departing is very short, especially in certain demographic groups or teams, then it’s likely a warning indicator that these departing individuals did not feel welcomed. Make sure as a board member to ask what is being done to increase the feeling of belonging and continue to watch these numbers to see if the desired results are achieved.

10. Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge. Salary is only one way companies can show that they value employees. Acknowledgement, however, goes further toward creating a feeling of belonging, especially when hybrid or fully remote employees feel less “seen.” A sincere thank you and genuine applause helps motivate employees and helps them feel that they belong as a valued and recognized part of the organization.

Creating a feeling of belonging is essential in this new environment of hybrid and remote-friendly work. Given the Great Resignation and the rise of gig and nomadic workers, it is important for boards and management teams to determine what is right for their companies to attract and retain talent, as well as to get the best from that talent when they work with your company, wherever they may be doing that work.

Roberta Sydney is a seasoned board director and former CEO serving as the lead director of Kiavi, the leading technology and lender solution for real estate investors.

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Be Introspective to Expand Your Board Portfolio

Every board member of a publicly traded company got their start somewhere. Many first served on nonprofit or industry-focused boards. Others achieved C-suite success in their careers and jumped straight into board service. But all mobilized their time and energy to expand and upgrade their board portfolios.

Serving on a board can benefit your career, organization, profession, and industry. Finding the best, most appropriate opportunities for expanding your board portfolio is a multistep process that involves determining what types of companies fuel your passions, analyzing the benefits of board service, and evaluating your own skills and abilities. It is probably easy to pinpoint the industries, organizations, and areas of expertise that command your interest and align with your professional goals, but it’s vital that you perform a self-assessment in preparation for any board service. Along these lines, here are some crucial steps to expand your board portfolio to ensure maximum success.

Step One: Evaluate your cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, and ethics.

Knowing where you stand on cognition and emotional intelligence and how your use of these abilities align with your personal values and ethics will help you analyze opportunities for board portfolio expansion that fit how you think and work—and can challenge you in new ways. Reflecting on these areas will also reveal your appetite to embrace change management, strategic thinking, and talent development. Here’s how you can perform a self-assessment in these areas.

Cognitive competency. Understand your level of cognitive performance by considering how you execute in areas such as attention, perception, memory, language, judgment, and thinking.

Emotional intelligence. Reflect on how you express empathy for others and manage relationships with coworkers, suppliers, partners, opinion leaders, and media. Know how you score on self-awareness and the ability to be introspective, as well as social awareness, including how you have in the past or would in the future integrate differences in culture, income, education, ethnicity, attitudes, beliefs, and values in the boardroom and when thinking about the workplace more generally.

Values and ethics. Know the personal standards and criteria by which you’ll make decisions, solve problems, resolve conflicts, and mobilize teams. Consider how you would prioritize and apply business values such as integrity, honesty, fairness, accountability, diversity, teamwork, quality, and passion to your board work and encourage your fellow directors to do the same.

This self-reflection can instill confidence and clarity as you assess and present yourself for board opportunities, as well as aid in updating your board profile or resume to attract interest from nonprofit and for-profit board decision makers. Board profiles showcase board experience and achievement, executive experience and skill sets, and special qualifications beyond formal education, including certifications, memberships, appointments, and awards. Think of examples you can include in your profile that demonstrate your cognitive, emotional, and ethical strengths.

Step Two: Identify gaps in knowledge, skill, and experience.

In addition to evaluating your mental strengths, assessing your knowledge, skills, and experience can offer a report card on your professional strengths and opportunities for enhancement.

Knowledge. Rate yourself on a 10-point scale, integrating colleagues’ feedback to pinpoint knowledge of core business competencies, including economics, accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, talent management, technology, and operations. Also assess how much you know and understand about hot-button board and business issues such as diversity, sustainability, recruitment and hiring, cybersecurity, culture, and innovation. Ask yourself how closely your knowledge aligns with a board’s interests and priorities. To what extent would your knowledge influence and impact board deliberations?  

Skill. Document, assess, and evaluate your primary and secondary business skills, including leadership, management, communication, negotiation, problem-solving, conflict resolution, collaboration, and decision-making. Consider how and where you’ve used these skills and the results you’ve achieved. Also reflect on how you could upgrade or refine these skills via training or participation in special projects. Finally, examine how your strongest skill set aligns with the character, personality, and agenda of a targeted board.   

Experience. Review previous resumes and social media profiles to determine the depth and breadth of your experience. Describe where you’ve worked or served in terms of location, industry, size, revenues, and product lines. Synthesize your experience with an “elevator statement” such as the following: “I’m a hands-on marketer and digital strategist with a deep understanding of the issues confronting the food industry. I can help a food and beverage company think strategically, elevate its brand, and meet the evolving needs of customers.” 

Keep in mind that assessing your knowledge, skill, and experience is a journey, not a destination. Try to evaluate where you’ve been and how far you’ve come in terms of new knowledge, skills, and experience. Award yourself points or letter grades for improvements, tapping friends and colleagues for input on your progress.  

In the process of creating your board resume and meeting with decision makers, the best approach is to showcase your strongest, most in-demand skills while revealing how you’ve worked to close knowledge and skill gaps, including through board education programs and joining board-focused organizations such as NACD.

Step Three: Stay open-minded, current, and relevant.

Staying informed and abreast of current issues demands tapping into business publications and websites. In addition to general business newspapers and websites, there are industry-specific publications online and in print that are more in-depth. Social media has a place in keeping up with the news as well and can keep you in touch with brand marketing and stakeholder interests.

As you access business, industry, and social media resources, keep up with board trends by scanning board-focused publications and special reports. Focus on information and analysis within highly sought-after board competencies, such as finance, compliance, strategy, and innovation.

Follow forecasts on issues that continue to rise to the top of board agendas, including sustainability; environmental, social, and governance challenges; digital transformation; cybersecurity; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and talent management in the remote and hybrid workplace.

As you think about transitioning from smaller company boards to larger or public company boards, remember that each board has its own purpose or mission, governance policies, financial focus, CEO selection and evaluation process, reporting relationships, board committees, and size. Each board also has its own board member selection criteria, board meeting frequency, board and board member evaluation process, and director tenure and term limits.  

Pay attention to these differentiators. Evaluating your interests, passions, cognitive abilities, knowledge, skills, and experience will guide you to the best, most fulfilling board opportunities.

Jena Abernathy is a senior client partner and sector leader for health-care board services for Korn Ferry International. She is a partner in the Korn Ferry Global CEO & Board Practice and specializes in C-suite and board-level searches.

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Day of Reckoning: SEC Votes 3–1 to Propose New Climate Disclosure Rules

As a director, do you understand the material risks and opportunities your company faces from climate change? What about greenhouse gas emissions in your company and its supply chain (Scope 1, 2, and 3)? And how is your board equipped and organized to oversee these matters?

On Monday, March 21, with the release of proposed rules on The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosure for Investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took a decisive step toward requiring all public companies to disclose all such “climate-related” matters in their initial stock-sale prospectuses and their annual reports. Love it or hate it, the new proposal is likely to result in final rules that will have companies and boards scrambling to comply, even as some business groups attempt to challenge the proposal in court.

The newly proposed SEC rules—at 510 pages one of the longest single-topic disclosure rules ever published by the SEC (by comparison, the release describing the conflict minerals rules was only 356 pages)—marks a true turning point for corporate climate disclosures. Although the SEC published guidance in an interpretive release in February 2010, these rules, once final, will be the first of their kind. The 2010 guidance asked companies to disclose risks from legislation and regulation, international agreements, impact of business trends, and physical impacts of climate change. The newly proposed 2022 rules expand this framework considerably: they use the term “climate-related” 1,182 times, making it clear that climate impact is everywhere. If passed in their present form, the rules would be effective as of December 2022, and apply to reports on fiscal years as ending as early as December 2023, with later periods for smaller companies, per page 100 of the release. The proposed rules would require “attestation” (approval by an independent expert such as an audit firm), starting with “limited” attestation at first but eventually requiring “reasonable” attestation—standards explained in the fine print of the rules.

The public now has at least 60 days to comment before the SEC votes on a final rule, either 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, or May 20, 2022, whichever period is longer. (All comments on these newly proposed rules must reference File S7-10-22. Click here to submit a comment.)

Conflicting Commission Views

The three Democrat commissioners supported the proposal, with one dissent from the Commission’s lone Republican. In an SEC press release about the proposed rules, SEC Chair Gary Gensler claimed that the rules were “driven by the needs of investors and issuers,” asserting that it would “provide investors with consistent, comparable, and decision-useful information for making their investment decisions, and it would provide consistent and clear reporting obligations for issuers.” Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw’s statement called the proposed rules “an important and long-awaited step forward.” In her statement supporting the proposed rules, former acting commissioner Allison Herren Lee called the proposal a “watershed moment,” and made several technical points aimed at making the rules as strict as possible, for example, questioning the value of a non-auditor attestor, and questioning the grace period of limited (rather than reasonable) attestation.

When Lee was acting chair of the SEC in early 2021, she issued a February 2021 statement asking the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance to heighten its scrutiny of climate-related disclosures, as well as a March 2021 statement asking for general comments on climate change disclosure.

In her unique vote of dissent, Commissioner Hester Peirce claimed that the rules favored a consulting sector she called the “climate industrial complex” and argued that, if passed, the sweeping rules would make fundamental changes to the current disclosure regime, “harming investors, the economy, and this agency.” She also warned that the rules could come under constitutional challenge as a violation of corporation free speech.

The Structure of the Proposed Rules

The proposed rules (as described on pages 44–45 of the March 21 release) would require the following disclosures, among others:

The oversight and governance of climate-related risks by the company’s board and management. NACD has been championing this as the US Host Chapter in the Climate Governance Initiative of the World Economic Forum. (More about this later.)How any such risks have had or are likely to have a material impact on its business and consolidated financial statements over the short-, medium-, or long-term, as defined by the company. (The rules release includes a discussion of materiality, emphasizing that any “materiality determination is made with regard to the information that a reasonable investor considers important to an investment or voting decision.”)How any such risks have affected or are likely to affect the company’s strategy, business model, and outlook.The company’s processes for identifying, assessing, and managing climate-related risks and whether or not these processes are part of an overall risk management system. If the company uses scenario analysis, the proposed rules would “require a description of those analytical tools, including the assumptions and methods used” (p. 358).The impact of climate-related events and transition activities on the line items of a registrant’s consolidated financial statements and related expenditures (and disclosures of impacted estimates and assumptions).The extent of owned greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, whether directly from owned assets (Scope 1 GHG), or indirectly from owned assets (Scope 2 GHG). There will be no safe harbor from litigation if these disclosures are challenged as false or misleading by plaintiffs.Companies will also be required to disclose emissions from indirect non-owned assets (Scope 3 GHG) emissions if they are material, and/or if the company has set a reduction target. Smaller companies are exempt from this last requirement, and there will be a general safe harbor for Scope 3 disclosures.

Details on Board Oversight

For every area of disclosure, the proposed rules offer detailed requirements. Of most immediate concern to board leaders will be the details on the aforementioned area of “board oversight and governance.” Under this category of disclosure (detailed on page 100 of the release), the rules would require a company to disclose this information:

Which board members or board committees (if any) are responsible for the oversight of climate-related risksWhich board members (if any) have expertise in climate-related risks, fully describing the nature of the expertiseHow the board or board committee discusses climate-related risks—and with what frequencyHow the board is informed about climate-related risks, and how frequently the board considers such risksWhether and how the board (or board committee) considers climate-related risks as part of its business strategy, risk management, and financial oversightWhether and how the board sets climate-related targets or goals and how it oversees progress against those targets or goals, including the establishment of any interim targets or goals

Form of Disclosure

The newly proposed rules build on existing disclosure requirements under the two main regulations for public companies: Regulation SK (Code of Federal Regulation, Part 229, covering all nonfinancial disclosures) and Regulation SX (Code of Federal Regulation, 17 CFR Part 210, covering all financial disclosure). Accordingly, the proposed rules explain how a company should provide the climate-related information in the registration statement or annual report (which may be by reference from other sections mandated by Regulation S-K, such as Management’s Discussion and Analysis) and how to provide financial information as mandated under Regulation S-X, via notes to the financial statements. The proposed rules require companies to electronically tag both kinds of disclosures (narrative and quantitative) in Inline XBRL. The proposed rules specifically require that the disclosures must be “filed rather than furnished.”

Likely Response to the New Proposal

Many organizations will be building on comments they have already conveyed to the Commission over the past year in response to the March 2021 request by then acting chair Lee. While most of the 6,000 responses received were form letters (following one of the SEC’s four model forms), more than 700 were unique. Most of the letters were from climate groups urging greater disclosure. A small percentage of the unique letters were from corporations or their representatives (such as the is 2021 Business Roundtable letter) or similar letters from the US Chamber of Commerce and National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI). All these corporate letters urged safeguards against liability. For example, the NIRI comment made three key recommendations aimed at reducing undue liability for directors: flexibility of approach, a safe harbor similar to the one for forward-looking financial statements, and the status of “furnishing” rather than “filing.”

This last point is particularly important because any time a financial statement is filed with the SEC it is vulnerable to lawsuits under securities laws. Also requesting furnished rather than filed statements was an early comment from the CEO of the nonprofit XBRL, which develops protocols for SEC electronic filings to make them easily searchable and comparable.

An investor perspective no doubt helpful to the SEC staff in writing the rules came from a BlackRock comment last year. BlackRock recommended working with the leading standard setters, citing the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) a protocol developed by GRI, VRF, and others. The 2022 proposed rules are based explicitly on this model as well as on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for measuring GHG.

Likelihood and Timing of Passage

Judging from the supportive comments and votes of the three Democrat appointees on the four-member Commission, majority approval of final rules is likely before the end of the year. The Commission may have felt some pressure from Congress. In a February 9 letter to Chair Gensler, Sen. Elizabeth Warren noted that the late start in proposing climate rules will cause delays, which are “unwarranted and unacceptable.” Commissioner Lee is leaving the Commission in June 2022, and while she is likely to be replaced by someone with similar views, there may be an effort to fast-track the rules before she leaves.

In responding to the proposed rules, many organizations will be building on comments they have already made in response to a previous SEC call for comment, made March 15, 2021, by then acting chair Allison Herren Lee. As of today, more than one year later, nearly 6,000 individuals and institutions have sent in comments on climate change disclosure to the SEC, in response to Commissioner Lee’s 2021 request. While most of these were form letters (following one of the SEC’s four model forms), more than 700 were unique, with most of these urging greater disclosure. Most of these were from environmental advocacy groups (such as the Sierra Club) that are not themselves issuers of financial statements or investors in corporations.

Will the Rules Be Challenged in Court? A Matter of Precedent

The US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable have both sent early comments in 2021 supportive of the general goal of disclosure, but also asking the SEC to make the standard “furnished” rather than “filed” to lessen potential liability risk under US securities laws. They are likely to challenge the proposed rules on this point, and, if it becomes final, to challenge it in court. There may be a parallel action from the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, a conservative group that challenges climate-related rules (as this past petition for rulemaking shows).

In recent years, the Supreme Court has heard a number of challenges to regulatory power over corporations—that most recent one being now argued in court: West Virginia v. United States, argued February 28, 2022, challenging the government’s authority to compel environmental standards. The original petition in this case was authored by Patrick Morrisey, who has objected to mandatory climate reporting on this same ground, as stated in this letter to the SEC sent in March 2021. Successful challenges to SEC authority include one challenging conflict mineral disclosure as a First Amendment violation (in Nat’l Ass’n of Manufacturers, Et al. v. SEC, et al., 2014, upheld 2015), and another vacating one of two final proxy access rules (Business Roundtable et al. v. SEC, 2011).

Get Ready

Many in the governance community—especially the many in the climate advisory community—will welcome these new rules. Yet others may protest them in comments or even in court. All boards, however, would be wise to anticipate the emergence of a new climate disclosure regime in some form—and to practice good climate governance in the meantime.

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Director Compensation and Demographic Trends Align Boards with Stakeholders, Report Reveals

Hybrid working environments. The Great Resignation. Supply chain struggles. Inflation. And now, geopolitical uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine. With the explosion of these new areas of concern, and the additional time board members have had to dedicate to address them, one might think that director pay would increase in kind.

Not so: median total direct compensation, or the total board compensation plus total committee compensation, inched ahead 3 percent year over year. From another angle, this is understandable. At a time when executive pay is seen as outsized, with certain lawmakers and regulatory leaders calling for limitations on such pay, directors must also be vigilant in their approach to their own compensation, especially as the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other stakeholders are paying increased attention to director engagement and the board’s role and responsibilities.

This and other director pay metrics were recently published in the 2021–2022 NACD Director Compensation Report, produced in collaboration with Pearl Meyer. Main Data Group collected the data from the SEC filings of 1,400 public companies in 24 industries for the fiscal year ending between Feb. 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021. Across the companies studied, there were approximately 300 businesses each in the micro, small, medium, and large size groups, and 200 businesses in the top 200 (from the S&P 500) size group. Below are further key trends from the report.

The Difference Lies in Size

Although median total direct compensation increased by 3 percent year over year across company sizes, micro-cap companies, with $50 million to $500 million in revenue, saw a 7 percent increase to $133,171 in median compensation and companies among the top 200 saw a 1 percent increase to $309,773. Micro-cap companies saw no change in compensation the year prior, perhaps accounting in part for the largeness of the latest bump.

Micro-cap companies also stand out from the pack as they belong to the only size category that delivers less than 50 percent of director compensation through equity, delivering only 47 percent this way. Small, medium, large, and top 200 companies—often the more established public companies—all offer director compensation in the form of at least 50 percent equity. This is a market and NACD best practice. In recent years, micro and small businesses have been trending toward increasing the ratio of director pay delivered via equity to align the board with the long-term interests of company shareholders.

Board meeting and committee fees also remain more popular at smaller companies than large, with micro-cap firms offering 4 percent of compensation in the form of board meeting fees and 9 percent in committee fees, and top 200 firms offering 1 percent in board meeting fees and 4 percent in committee fees.

Moves Toward Simplification

Overall, the prevalence of board meeting fees has drastically declined over the past decade. In the latest study, only 17 percent of all companies paid directors board meeting fees; in 2011, 61 percent of micro-cap and 31 percent of top 200 firms compensated board members this way. This decline was only accelerated by the onset of the pandemic in 2020 as boards saw increases in the amount of work expected of them and of unofficial meetings and communication between directors outside of board meetings. The prevalence of committee meeting fees saw an overall decline of 2 percent from the prior year’s study, as well. In general, this points to the continuation of a trend of simplification in director compensation programs.

Committee Shifts

Beyond the three standing committees, 23 percent of companies in the study have executive committees and 14 percent have finance committees. When it comes to overseeing less traditional subject areas, 12 percent of top 200 companies have environmental, social, and governance (ESG)-related committees. Only 2 percent of micro-cap firms and 3 percent of small companies have the same. Not all smaller businesses will formalize their ESG oversight by creating a separate committee; they could very well be overseeing such issues at the full-board level or within the scope of a standing committee. However, smaller companies without a dedicated committee and that do not oversee ESG at the board level should not think themselves “too small” to dedicate resources to ESG programs or to consider ESG a top priority.

Meanwhile, across the board, 96 percent of audit committee chairs receive chair-specific pay, 93 percent of compensation committee chairs receive this pay, and only 87 percent of nominating and governance committee chairs do. In addition, median committee retainer compensation is highest for audit committee members ($10,000) and lowest for nominating and governance committee members ($6,000). This may reflect a tendency of boards to add new areas of oversight to the audit committee’s responsibilities under the umbrella of risk and strategy, as well as a general continued emphasis on traditional board responsibilities over newer, more “social” ones.

Board Membership

Director demographics (gleaned from the SEC filings) reveal that there was little change in the median age of directors, which is 64, despite cybersecurity, human capital, and other issues important to the board increasingly demanding that people with such expertise—including sitting executives and younger digital natives—serve on boards. When it comes to gender diversity, however, 41 percent of boards studied have three or more women directors compared to 35 percent a year earlier. In addition, 94 percent of organizations have at least one woman director. This follows on the heels of the SEC in 2021 approving Nasdaq’s board diversity listing rule that mandates board diversity disclosure for companies listed on the exchange and that such companies have, or explain why they do not have, a minimum of two diverse directors. Though listed companies are not required to have, or explain why they do not have, at least one diverse director until mid-2023, the reporting requirements go into effect this proxy season. While boards seem to be migrating director compensation and demographics toward better alignment with stakeholders, the pace of change is slow. Entering a new phase of the pandemic, and given the potential upheaval of the global economy from the fallout of the war in Ukraine, boards must continue to consider flexibility and accountability for new and pressing issues in designing governance structures and director compensation plans.

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New Collars, Hivemind Investors, and Other Stakeholders Have Changed the Business Landscape: What Boards Should Know

The disruption of the last two years has transformed consumers and employees. They’ve emerged from the pandemic far more digitally savvy, focused on self-improvement, and eager to work remotely at least some of the time. They also expect companies to do more, whether it’s providing opportunities for advancement or addressing climate change.

The Oliver Wyman Forum surveyed more than 100,000 people across 10 countries over the last 15 months, which unearthed eight burgeoning consumer and employee personas that are at the forefront of several macro disruptions that the world is experiencing today, from the way people work, travel, and shop to the way that we invest, entertain, and even perceive reality. Accounting for almost 60 percent of the adult population, these personas either represent brand new mind-sets or have changed so much during the pandemic that they are barely recognizable compared to their former selves. They are as follows:

Citizens of the Metaverse, who are embracing augmented reality;New Collars, blue-collar workers who have learned new skills and are demanding better pay;Hivemind Investors, whose financial decisions are influenced by social media;Virtual Natives, or white-collar employees with their sights set on remote work;Psychedelic Explorers, who are encouraging the growth of alternative medicine companies;Wellness Protagonists, who champion technology-enabled self-care;Digital Bloomers, whose digital skills flourished during the pandemic; andClimate Catalysts, who are willing to abandon brands that don’t address the environment.

Companies have a choice. They can respond to individuals’ changed needs and behaviors, or they can risk losing more talent and missing opportunities to provide consumers with the services and products they seek.

What Workers Want

The trauma and isolation of the pandemic led people to reevaluate their priorities. Many also grew accustomed to working remotely. Some lost jobs, while others had to put themselves and loved ones at risk while clocking hours in person. US Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that as the Great Resignation rages, more than 20 percent of employed workers in the United States have already quit their jobs; according to the Oliver Wyman Forum survey, another 30 percent of workers studied plan to leave.

“New Collars,” one such impacted group, are moving forward. Many of these former blue-collar workers responded to layoffs and the dangers they experienced while being exposed to COVID-19 by learning additional skills. More than 20 percent of the people in this group have transitioned to a new position, and about half of these workers are now in traditional white-collar fields, such as software or information technology and data processing. For those who haven’t transitioned, businesses still can retain this much-needed talent by providing the higher pay, greater flexibility, and better work-life balance they seek.

Employers also will need to provide more hybrid job options if they want to retain “Virtual Natives”, who account for 12 percent of white-collar workers—a proportion growing by the day. This largely Generation Z and younger millennial crowd joined the white-collar workforce in the last few years and have had a largely remote professional experience so far. They want a greater connection to colleagues but aren’t willing to give up the flexibility, time with friends and family, and fitness classes to which they’ve grown accustomed. A whopping 86 percent said they would quit if required to work on-site full-time. And they’re not all talk; in fact, they have switched jobs at 1.5x times the rate of the general population, and a larger share continue to look actively or passively for new work.

New Customer Needs

From a consumer standpoint, the pandemic accelerated the use of telehealth, online financial services, and other self-service and remote-service technologies. The “Digital Bloomer” was at the heart of this transformation. This crowd, typically 45 years of age and older, once favored in-store shopping and banking, but concerns about safety and desires to remain connected forced them to learn technology skills. They now want new products and services that cater to their expanded digital comfort zone.

Similarly, a typically younger group emerged from the pandemic eager to improve their health. These “Wellness Protagonists” are using technology and data to prioritize self-care. They account for more than 20 percent of the general population, and 89 percent of this group now exercise regularly, more than twice the proportion of the general population. More broadly, they are taking the reins of their own holistic well-being, drawing on a self-curated mix of traditional and alternative modalities and products—everything from supplements to home testing to meditation apps to concierge medicine.

Perhaps the most extreme users of technology are the “Citizens of the Metaverse” (“Metazens”), who are eager to participate in the metaverse. They are embracing the new technological frontier with a willingness to pay and experiment while molding the new market that can integrate their physical and virtual worlds. They will be the first to provide feedback that will influence how the technology and the market develop, with a number of corporations recently announcing their entry into this new market in order to test and learn while expanding their presence.

A subset of consumers has also emerged that is especially committed to protecting the planet. These “Climate Catalysts”, typically 35 years of age or older, have grown frustrated with what they see as inadequate climate leadership from businesses and governments. After watching how quickly the world mobilized against COVID-19, they want businesses and governments to do far more. Almost three-quarters of this group will avoid companies that don’t act to reduce climate change, and 84 percent said they would pay more for sustainable products.

What Should Businesses Do?

Time is running out for companies that don’t recognize and respond to these dramatic shifts in what employees and consumers are demanding. The gaps are growing, and businesses at the forefront have the chance to get ahead of the wave before it crests. Rising employee wages have not been enough to stem the talent bleed or the more systemic talent shortage that the business world could face for years to come. Employers must act quickly and carefully on holistic and purpose-aligned talent propositions that offer greater flexibility, work-life balance, and potential for growth and achievement.

Businesses have an opportunity to design products and services that meet the needs of these changed customers, whether with entirely new products and services, new online options, meta assets, or more sustainable offerings. Companies that do not reassess their strategies quickly to keep current with these changed consumers and employees risk falling behind or missing opportunities ahead.

Ana Kreacic is chief knowledge officer of Oliver Wyman and chief operating officer of the Oliver Wyman Forum, where she also coleads its Global Consumer Sentiment initiative.

Lucia Uribe is a partner in Oliver Wyman’s Financial Services Retail and Business Banking practice and coleads the Oliver Wyman Forum’s Global Consumer Sentiment initiative.

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CPI San Antonio’s Barbara A. F. Greene Featured in Texas CEO Magazine

Barbara A. F. Greene, CEO of Greene and Associates, Inc., A CPI Firm, was interviewed by Texas CEO Magazine and was featured in the latest issue. Read it here: 

“The Path to the Corner Office“

Do some roles and experiences prepare you for the CEO role better than others? We looked at the data and talked to a few Texas CEOs to find out. 
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