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Corporate board directors

Latest findings from PwC’s Pulse Survey

Directors find themselves a sounding board for future-of-work decisions

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.


Directors are relying more on data for monitoring culture

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.

Boards using data to oversee corporate culture


Employee engagement survey results
%
Employee turnover
statistics
%
Number of customer complaints/
trends
%
Customer service/
satisfaction survey results
%
Code of conduct
training results
%

Q: Thinking about your company’s strategy for the future of work, how important are the following metrics to your board's ability to oversee corporate culture?
Source: PwC Pulse US Survey, August 19, 2021: Board member base of 65

Directors’ roles in workplace strategies vary

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.

Boards get engaged in strategizing the future of work

High level of agreement among directors with management’s proposed strategy
%
The board received sufficient information from management to assess the strategy
%
Directors contributed perspectives from outside executive or board roles
%
The board consulted with outside experts on the strategy
%
The board did not play a significant role in the decision
%

Q: How would you characterize your board’s involvement in the development of the company's strategy for the future of work that will be in place this fall? (Select all that apply.)
Source: PwC Pulse US Survey, August 19, 2021: Board member base of 65

Hybrid workplaces stymie the oversight of talent management

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.

A big hurdle for boards: Talent management oversight gets harder


More difficult
No impact
Easier
Career development
%
%
%
Upskilling/
retraining
%
%
%
Innovation
%
%
%
Recruitment
%
%
%
Succession planning
%
%
%

Q: To what extent would a fully remote or hybrid workforce affect the board’s ability to oversee the following areas of talent management (compared to a traditional, in-person workforce)?
Source: PwC Pulse US Survey, August 19, 2021: Board member base of 65

About the survey

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

Next in work: What’s top of mind in the C-suite?

Past surveys

March 24, 2021

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Maria Castañón Moats

Maria Castañón Moats

Governance Insights Center Leader, PwC US

Paul DeNicola

Paul DeNicola

Principal, Governance Insights Center, PwC US

John  Oleniczak

John Oleniczak

Partner, Governance Insights Center, PwC US

Stephen G. Parker

Stephen G. Parker

Partner, Governance Insights Center, PwC US

Barbara Berlin

Barbara Berlin

Managing Director, Governance Insights Center, PwC US

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