Latest findings from PwC’s Pulse Survey
are using employee engagement survey results to oversee corporate culture
say their board is aligned with management’s strategy
say career development is more challenging in a hybrid work setting
Overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic made the concepts of remote working and flexible time furiously real for many companies. This sudden transformation changed people’s expectations about work as never before. Now, as companies prepare for a post- or late-pandemic workplace, the decisions they make will have profound implications for how work gets done, their company’s culture, and how their people feel about working there. Those decisions may significantly impact talent acquisition and retention.
Corporate directors are staying focused on overseeing culture and talent management. Both have become more difficult to monitor in remote and hybrid settings. But directors have adapted, for instance by relying more on data than intuition for overseeing culture.
And most have been very involved in helping determine their company’s strategy for the future of work.
Our 2021 Global Culture Survey found that a key determinant of how well a company responds to shifts and uncertainties is its culture. That is the primary enabler — or inhibitor — of an organization’s ability to change quickly and adapt strategically and successfully.
In our latest PwC US Pulse Survey, we found the top five measures that boards use to monitor and understand culture are now quantitative. Two years ago, directors were more likely to rely on things like intuition and gut feelings drawn from interactions with management.
Culture is hard to define and measure, and boards have historically tended to rely more on “soft” inputs, such as informal interactions with management, to gauge whether it’s working. But with the pandemic-enforced constraints on personal interaction that began in March 2020, they are turning today to more structured data.
What hasn’t changed from pre-pandemic times is that boards are intensely interested in what employees — and customers — think about the company. And they continue to believe that the most important way to retain critical talent in a seller’s market is to emphasize company leadership and culture.
So, while the ability of boards to oversee culture via intuition and feel has been somewhat impaired, directors feel a heightened need to stay abreast of it. Accordingly, they will need to gather and digest more data about their business’ employees and customers. And they could augment this data haul with targeted culture evaluations.
Companies have struggled to craft the right workplace strategy in the midst of an evolving pandemic, and boards play an important role in helping them. In our latest PwC US Pulse Survey, most directors say that their board was aligned with management’s strategy. But fewer report that they received enough information to assess it, and fewer still heard from outside experts on how to navigate this decision.
Management teams, however, might benefit from better leveraging board perspectives. The decisions companies are making about the future of work today are unprecedented in their scale and scope, and in the long-term consequences of the potential changes. Directors can be a sounding board for these foundational decisions and provide valuable insights.
It’s largely up to management to provide boards with the tools they need to oversee and weigh in on key strategy decisions, especially those in uncharted waters. But directors can also play a part in ensuring that they have the data and outside perspectives they need in order to weigh in on and appropriately challenge management’s view. Monitoring these decisions closely over the short- and medium-term, including the impact they have on workplace culture, should be on every board’s agenda.
It’s critical for boards to keep a close eye on talent management. In a tight market, companies are competing for talent on many fronts, and board focus on the issue can help ensure their company’s approach supports its long-term goals. That can improve the odds of winning talent while simultaneously becoming a more resilient, agile and innovative organization.
But the current environment presents a real challenge. Directors told us that many aspects of talent management oversight are more difficult in a remote or hybrid work setting. Career development is more challenging when supervisors and team members don’t have face-to-face time to connect, coach and collaborate. Upskilling and retraining are constrained. And innovation processes take longer when teams aren’t colocated and can’t as easily bounce ideas off each other.
But talent management can’t take a back seat just because remote workforces are hard to monitor. By evaluating the elements of oversight that have become more difficult, boards and management teams can work together to fill the gaps and alleviate some of the challenges. They might do this with increased or different types of reporting, or by bringing different members of management onto the board agenda to keep directors abreast of what’s going on with the workforce.
Our latest PwC US Pulse Survey, fielded August 2 to August 6, 2021, surveyed 65 corporate board directors from Fortune 1000 and private companies, along with other C-suite executives, about business priorities and decisions they're making around the future of work. Find all of these insights in our PwC US Pulse Survey.
Stephen G. Parker
Partner, Governance Insights Center, PwC US