Insights from Leaders

Nov 17, 2021

4 min read

It’s About Time: Making a Commitment to Change - Susan Chapman-Hughes

The JPM podcast ‘What’s the Deal’ recently featured me as a guest discussing the building of modern boards. I spoke about the risks companies face if they do not take ESG measures seriously and what they need to do to ‘get it right’. Modern boards reflect their community and actively work towards bettering social issues.

“If you do not take these issues seriously, customers will choose to not buy your products. You have to be very thoughtful about the fact that if you look at millennials and Gen Z, many of them are very focused on companies that are mission driven; companies that understand the importance of protecting the environment and those reflecting the demographic mix of their population. They are voting with their feet and you can see that in many of the various industries that are around. It doesn’t matter what industry it is, they literally are looking at everything that they consume.

“I also think boards and companies have a responsibility to not just focus on shareholder value, at the end of the day, the stakeholder conversation is just a much broader one. We have seen how just in the last year companies have been forced to step up and engage in social conversations or conversations that are being driven by the social issues of the day. CEOs and boards need to be prepared to talk about issues in real time and they have to be able to assess the risk associated with it for their company and how that’s going to help them grow, not grow, or impact the bottom line.

“The companies I have had the opportunity to participate on the board in, the employees and the customers really want their company to do the right thing. If you do not have people sitting in the board room who can help guide you, discuss those conversations and help give you perspective on the issues, then often times boards will have blind spots. The diversity of boards really helps that gap and helps them identify the risks that go beyond the typical things that risk have been in the past.

“Personally I think it’s about time. People have been dragging their feet for these issues that have been there for a long time, but now there have been precipitating events that have forced organizations to step up and deal with them, and it’s about time.

“I think once you have been awakened and you know what the issue is, and you understand the context for what it is, then you have to be proactive in creating an organization that can keep it top of mind. And ensure it doesn’t become something I call a ‘window dressing’, so that means that your leadership teams and your organizations have to be diverse from top to bottom. If your leadership doesn’t reflect the broader community and the folks who are dealing with these issues and if they’re aren’t clear opportunities for those people to grow to the more senior ranks in your company, then you’re not doing it right. And the only way you can do that is making a commitment to being different

“I often advise companies and organizations to be really thoughtful about the norms and the culture of your organization. Are those things actually supporting the goals you have around changing the dynamic or are they hurting it?

“There are a lot of well-intentioned people out there who just get it wrong.

“I always like to use the word empathy when talking about this. If you really think about empathy, it requires you to actually put yourself in other people’s shoes. So if you’re spending time with people who all look, think, and act like you, you may be well meaning, but you cannot be truly empathetic. Because you have not taken the time and energy to change the way you think — and that’s really what it requires.”

About Susan: Susan Chapman-Hughes is a connected leader with experience in several industries. As a growth strategist, she transforms traditional businesses into modernized digital models through driving engagement in various sectors and implementing revolutionary expansion strategies. Her interpersonal skills and relatable personality have allowed her to easily build trust and offer a people-centered approach to inclusive, empowering, and energizing leadership. She currently serves as an independent board director for Toast, Inc. and The J.M. Smucker Co.

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