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Shadow Boards – A Fresh Perspective

February 20, 2020

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Shadow boards are a new concept where organizations put together a group of non-executive employees that work with senior management on strategic initiatives.  They help organizations solve two problems – disengaged younger workers and keeping up with changing market conditions.

One well-known company has had great success by utilizing shadow boards – Gucci.  Younger online influencers were disrupting the fashion industry. Gucci created a shadow board made up of Millennials from different functional areas within the organization. Their insights, according to CEO Maria Bizzarri, “served as a wakeup call for the executives.” Since implementing the shadow board, Gucci’s sales have grown 136%. 

Harvard Business Review researched other companies using shadow boards and focused on three organizations:

  • French AccorHotels – Top management was asked to create a brand for Millennials.  After two years of failure from the marketing team, a shadow board was created.  The shadow board helped them to focus on their vision regardless of internal costs and constraints and developed their new brand Jo&Joe.  They also created the Accor Pass, a hotel subscription that provides people under age 25 with a place to stay while searching for a permanent residence.

  • Stora Enso – The Finnish paper and packaging company used their shadow board to change how their executive committee assigned work.  In the past they had assigned projects based on expertise.  The shadow board suggested assigning tasks to non-experts, which would allow a fresh perspective and non-biased viewpoints. A project with a goal of reducing supply-chain lead time had stumped the prior expert team. The new shadow board, consisting of non-experts from various departments and levels, came up with a workable plan within six months. No shadow board members came from the business unit in question, and they had no prior supply chain experience.

  • GroupM India – Leadership was tasked with implementing a three-year digital and cultural transformation.  The CEO created a youth committee termed the YCO. The shadow board was able to transform GroupM’s ecosystem by increasing the number of partnerships with media owners, data providers, consultants, auditors, and start-ups. They also developed a social platform that facilitated conversations between leadership and lower-level employees.

From the research done by Harvard Business Review, they put together a list of best practices for building a shadow board:

  1. Look beyond the “high-potential” group – Allow shadow board members to self-select.  Millennial participants tend to prefer a more open process rather than executives nominating those employees already in the spotlight and considered as high-potential employees. On abilities such as data analytic skills, sense-making, and teamwork, open-enrollment shadow board members outperform the known high-potential employees.

  2. Make it CEO-sponsored – Support must come from the top for a shadow board to be successful.

  3. Keep evaluating and iterating – Organizations with successful shadow board programs tweaked their programs as they learned what worked and what didn’t.

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