How a Corporate Board Can Engage on Company Culture

October 23, 2019, 3:46 PM UTC
FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit 2019
040rFORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit 2019rOctober 23rd, 2019 rWashington, DCrr7:30 AMrBREAKFAST ROUNDTABLES rLEADING THROUGH CULTURAL CHANGErHosted by Herman Miller rThe business world is constantly evolving—and great company cultures must do the same. From finding and fixing cultural blind spots, to ensuring that activist employees feel heard, to striving for greater inclusivity, HR leaders are at the forefront of such shifts. How are MPWs thinking about guiding their workforces through these changing times?rDalana Brand, Vice President, People Experience and Rewards, TwitterrJacqui Canney, Global Chief People Officer, WPPrTracy Keogh, Chief Human Resources Officer, HPrModerator: Erika Fry, FORTUNErIntroduction: Robyn Hofmeyer, Senior Vice President, Finance and Sales Administration, Herman MillerrrPhotograph by Danuta Otfinowski for Fortune
Photograph by Danuta Otfinowski for Fortune

As corporate crises have unfolded—whether it’s Uber or Boeing or WeWork—workplace culture has cropped up as a culprit. In those instances, boards turn their attention to the issue, probing what factors related to leadership,  employee engagement and feedback, and transparency might have given rise to the problem. 

Less is heard, however, of boards engaging in workplace culture outside of instances of crisis management.

How can boards of directors be more proactive on the matter?

Three workforce experts fielded that question at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

Tracy Keogh, HP’s chief human resources officer, argued that her company’s board is “super connected” with the organization’s people. For instance, board members meet directly with HP employee resource groups and the company employs a “board buddy” program that pairs directors with senior leaders.

The HP board also receives ethics and compliance reports and gets word of all sexual harassment complaints. Plus, it’s invited to HP’s annual meetings with partners as well as its sales meetings. All those connections between the board and HP staff are aimed at giving directors a taste of what the firm’s workplace is really like. “I always say, we have the hardest working board in show business,” Keogh said.

Twitter’s Dalana Brand, who’s vice president of people experience and rewards, shared arguably a simpler way her board engages with leaders on the topic. Members have access to a Google document that tracks the company’s progress on culture and people initiatives. They leave comments in the document for leaders to see; they ask probing questions of the information and use it as a starting point for conversations. Directors are “exposed to engagement scores,” Brand said; they see where Twitter’s problems are, in addition to its strengths and areas of growth.

Wunderman Thompson Chairman Tamara Ingram, meanwhile, argued that a board’s focus on culture depends on the CEO. If a chief executive isn’t actively committed to it, there’s little chance it will be a board priority.

More must-read stories from Fortune’s MPW Summit:

—How a corporate board can engage on company culture
—”I don’t regret enforcing the law.” Former DHS head Nielsen defends family separation in heated interview
—Why 3 major companies decided to take a stand on gun violence
Tulsi Gabbard calls Hillary Clinton’s Russian jabs “outrageous” at Fortune’s MPW Summit
—Anita Hill calls on candidates to address gender violence
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