Crisis? No, it’s an opportunity

Many boards are not equipped to deal with big disruptions to their businesses, and conventional governance is not “fit for purpose” in such situations, according to new research.

Things that can get in the way of effective board performance in a crisis include a powerful and successful chief executive or a weak chairman — either of which can make it difficult for non-executive directors (Neds) to draw attention to problems at an early stage. There may also be market pressure to take the company in a direction that ignores the real problem, write the authors of Boards in Challenging Times: Extraordinary Disruptions, by Henley Business School and Alvarez & Marsal, the professional services firm.

In a crisis, the first step for boards is to be as “clearheaded as possible” about what the issues actually are, said Stephen Hester, chief executive of RSA Insurance and a member of the report’s steering committee: “In many cases of corporate crisis there’s an initial process of denial, in part because the people who have been associated with the weaknesses don’t like confronting the fact that there are weaknesses. Clearly the quicker you get through the denial and the clearer-headed you are about exactly what’s wrong, the easier it is to start fixing things.”

Read more in The Sunday Times

Years of working dangerously

More than a fifth of corporate risk managers now list terrorism as their main concern — more than double the proportion who did so last year, according to a survey by Clements Worldwide, the insurance provider. Alongside this, more than a quarter of the managers questioned said their organisation had delayed or cancelled investment because of concern over terrorism.

As recent attacks in several cities have made clear, such risks are not confined to known trouble spots. This means that companies in the UK need to ensure their staff know how to respond in a crisis, said Chris Driver-Williams, head of security consulting at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm. Yet only 16% of the managers in the Clements Worldwide survey said they felt fully prepared to address these risks.

The government believes that threats are more likely to come in the form of “lone wolf” attacks than the highly organised terrorism of 9/11. “These attacks are barbaric . . . but cheap and simple — and they get loads of media attention,” said Driver-Williams. “It’s quite a new idea for most employees in London — the idea of having roving gunmen.

Read more in The Sunday Times

Wake up: this job is no dream

Read just about any job advertisement or CV and the word “passion” is almost always there. These days, it seems, candidates are expected to demonstrate not just competence and cultural fit but a deep-seated calling for their prospective role.

However, those who actually have such a sense of vocation can find it is as likely to harm their future as to help it.

Research by Shoshana Dobrow Riza, an assistant professor of management at the London School of Economics, suggests that people with a strong calling tend to earn less than their passionless peers and can find themselves persisting in a field even if they are no good at it.

“Having a calling for something is not connected to how good you are at it,” Dobrow Riza said. “People who make it have a strong calling and strong ability. The trouble is that there are other people who have a strong calling but do not have the ability.”

Read more in The Sunday Times

Freelance journalist and writer