The Role of Corporate Boards in Responding to Global Events

Our world is hyperconnected, constantly changing, and brutally impatient. When a global event occurs—be it a pandemic, an act of violence, a political movement, a weather event, or a technology breakthrough—businesses are often expected to respond quickly.

Your corporate board of directors plays a critical two-part role in your organization’s response, both in the public stance you take and in how you evolve business operations in light of the global event. Both require scenario planning. Preparing potential responses before they’re needed is the best way to prepare your business to speak out and maintain operations; rely on your corporate board to help.

Taking a Public Stance

More than ever before, CEOs and corporate boards of directors for global organizations have to be thoughtful, considerate, and strategic about how they publicly respond to global events. Scenario planning for taking a public stance means crafting responses in case of certain events. All organizations should follow PR and crisis management best practices to prepare possible responses:

Be prepared: Write responses before certain events occur to give yourself a framework to work with when situations do arise.

Be authentic: Stay true to your organization’s mission and core values.

Be deliberate: Carefully consider whether or not to weigh in by calculating possible ramifications.

Be strategic: Ask yourself if it makes sense for your organization to speak on the topic.

Be informed: In this day of misinformation, make sure you have all the facts.

Be thorough: Seek out different opinions and thoroughly debate the issue.

Be inclusive: Don’t catch your stakeholders off guard with a surprise statement. Run your response by trusted team members and inform your team of your statement in advance.

Be patient: Don’t cave to pressure to respond immediately—or at all. Outside forces often push corporations into immediate comments. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing.

There are certain situations that all people in their right minds can generally agree on, like standing against unprovoked violence. Even in those situations, however, you have to carefully consider how far you want to go with your organization’s public stance. Remember, public statements from corporations often have a significant long-term impact on the business. I encourage leaders to involve their key stakeholders, including their corporate boards of directors, in the response process.

Evolving Business Operations

Making a public statement is only the first part of your organization’s response to global events. You may need to quickly change the way you do business. Scenario planning has to include a thorough assessment of the ways your business operations may need to change in response to various global events.

I recommend that leaders assign their corporate boards of directors the responsibility to carefully examine the possible outcomes, shifting priorities, and changes to business in light of global threats. For example, say a war breaks out in the Middle East. That can have a significant impact on all aspects of business. How does it affect your workforce and people resources? What about trade routes? Can you still receive supplies and distribute your product? What will happen to your costs? Can your infrastructure handle a shutdown in one part of the world? What about your technology and information systems?

Your board needs to contemplate all of these things—and more—in scenario planning. The world is changing at a pace that we’ve never seen before, and it’s making the board’s responsibility for scenario planning even more important. Your organization has to be ready to respond internally to any number of global events that could have a huge, rippling impact on the way you do business.

Preparing for the Unexpected

Leadership teams and corporate boards of directors have to make sure their organization is prepared to respond to global events by keeping a pulse on world events, business needs, and public attention. In our increasingly interconnected world, scenario planning has never been more important.

We’ve seen firsthand that things can change overnight. Anything you and your board can do to prepare your organization for the unexpected will set you apart. I’m reminded of a quote from author Steven J. Bowen: “No company exists in a vacuum; each is part of an ecosystem.” Make sure your employees and your corporate board of directors recognize your organization’s role in that ecosystem—especially in response to global events.

Questions to Consider

  1. Is your organization prepared to respond to global events?
  2. Does your corporate board of directors participate in scenario planning?
  3. Do you have the right mix of people and opinions on your board?

If you’d like to discuss how to set up your board of directors for success, including best practices for responding to global events, contact me. I’d love to help you learn more about leadership development, crisis management, and high-performing teams.