We hear again and again about shadow governments that are standing by in the background in case of an event, such as the deselection of the government. Opposition parties are thus arming themselves for the rapid takeover of government business. A shadow board of directors (sometimes known as a ‘mirror board’) is a lesser-known concept, but its aim is not to stand by in case the company’s board of directors needs to be replaced.
Rather, it is an advisory body, which in our case is made up of younger employees without management responsibilities, and is intended to help the Board of Management to gain new perspectives from younger, different customer groups. Companies like Prada and Gucci, which as companies in the fashion industry have to react much more quickly to changing trends, have been using such shadow boards for several years. Prada, for example, missed the trend that more and more young fashionistas were inspired by influencers in their wardrobe selection. The French hotel chain AccorHotel also felt the pressure from the digital platform Airbnb, which is particularly popular among the younger and travel-happy generations. A shadow board composed of millennials led to new ideas and a turnaround. Especially in times when many companies are pinning their hopes on digital transformation, but fail to implement it, young and digitally-aware employees can provide practical and immediate insights that management boards are often not given in this way.
At the Finnish paper and packaging manufacturer Stora Enso, the shadow board (internally called ‘Pathfinder’) suggested an alternative way of distributing tasks and projects. Instead of always delegating them to experts, tasks that in-house specialists could not solve were distributed to colleagues from outside the company. As was the case with the InnoCentive innovation platform, sic found that non-experts brought a fresh perspective and found alternative solutions.
Such shadow boards are different from external consultants and management, and bring several advantages. The members are really different generations with different visions, desires and consumption patterns. The members are not solely sourced from the pool of high potentials, but represent the diversity of the workforce. For the members of a shadow board, visibility to the board and the opportunity to show what they can do and the experience of having a direct influence on the success of the company is very motivating. At the same time, the company takes advantage of the diverse experiences and perspectives within its own workforce and can thus position itself in a more future-oriented manner without having to pay high external consulting fees.
Looking at other perspectives also works in the other direction. Millennials or Generation Z members are just as unconscious as older generations tick. Just as Tik Tok may have been a new phenomenon for the ‘boomer’ generation and its significance may have been underestimated, generation X and Z underestimate the reach of platforms like Facebook for future generations. “Does anyone still use Facebook?” from the mouth of a millennial, as well as statements made by boomers like “Tik Tok is just kid stuff!“