The importance for the Board to get out and about, and to be seen doing so, cannot be too strongly emphasised.
Following the success of its engagement programme on 2018, the Board decided to expand the range of events it holds to engage with more of the workforce. While the Board, supported by the Company Secretary and divisional HR teams, is still developing the precise shape of these events, they currently take the form of informal roundtable discussions between one or two Non-Executive Directors and 10 to 20 members of the workforce drawn from a variety of roles, during which either topics that are pertinent to the Board’s discussions and/or topics that are important to the workforce are discussed.
The Non-Executive Directors attending the events feedback their observations to other Directors at the next following Board meeting, which prompts further discussions. Since the programme commenced, three of these events have taken place, one in each of the UK, the USA and Spain.
The Board’s approach to workforce engagement is a variant of the 2018 Code recommendation of having a designated Non-Executive Director responsible for engaging with the workforce.
The Board considers its approach more effective than having a single designated Non-Executive Director because:
- the sheer size of the Group’s workforce (with over 51,000 employees, plus many other workers);
- the geographical spread of the Group’s operations (across eight countries over four continents); and
- the cultural variations within the workforce across the Group (including as regards languages spoken), mean it is better to share this responsibility, and privilege, among all the Non-Executive Directors.
This way, more Non-Executive Directors can also hear the views of the workforce for themselves and bring their different observations back into the Boardroom.
It also enables Non-Executive Directors who are best placed, in terms of their own background and skills (including language skills) to participate in workforce engagement events.
The Board also considers its approach more effective than having a Director appointed from the workforce or a formal workforce advisory panel as there would be less free flow of ideas and information in the more formal settings of Board meetings or panel meetings than there can be at informal roundtable discussions (and as there already is during Board and Director visits to operations).
In view of the breadth of the Company’s geography and number of different types of worker that make up its workforce, there would also be inherent difficulties in ensuring that any individual worker Director or panel of workers would be truly representative of all the Group’s workers in such a way as to ensure the Board can really hear the voice of the workforce, in the way that it can via the Board’s approach.