Board appointments still made within closed networks

September 19, 2016

Harvey Nash/LBS Leadership Institute report reveals boards not fit for 21st Century purpose

London, UK 19 October 2016 – Four in ten board appointments are made without any formal process, and more than half go to candidates already known to the organisation. This is despite almost two-thirds of boards prioritising widening the skillset of board members, especially in digital, according to the Harvey Nash Board Report 2016/17 in association with London Business School’s Leadership Institute.

The research, representing the views of more than 650 non-executive directors from the UK, Nordics and Asia-Pacific, also finds that despite the role of the board being to govern and audit the business, just over a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents have never undergone an external board evaluation. In Asia that number rises to 45 per cent.

Christine de Largy, Chair of the UK Board Practice, Harvey Nash, commented: “In the face of the current challenging global economic climate, boards need to evolve to be fit for the 21st Century. The status quo is being disrupted by external pressures and Chairs need to act now to prepare their boards for the future. The results of the Harvey Nash Board Report 2016/17 in association with London Business School’s Leadership Institute indicate that in order to improve board governance standards worldwide there should be significantly more uptake of board best practice through the use of evaluations, assessments, process and focussing on the talent pipeline.”

The research suggests that despite external pressures created by economic uncertainty, digital disruption and increased need for transparency, many boards are struggling to adapt.

Digitisation is firmly on the board agenda across all geographies and takes second place only to strategy in board discussions. Despite this only 14 per cent of respondents said that their board had a fully comprehensive digital strategy. And a surprising 41 per cent say they don’t think their business is either disrupting or disrupted.

Diversity and inclusion can act as a catalyst for innovation and despite increasing emphasis on the importance of diversity of thought in the boardroom; only 29 per cent of respondents are creating succession plans focused on populating the board talent pipeline with a richer mix of backgrounds and experience.

Randall S Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Academic Director of London Business School’s Leadership Institute, says: “There are some pockets of good practice in the boardroom, but largely, boards have some way to go to reach their fullest potential. And for those organisations with effective boards it will be a source of significant advantage. We hope that the results of the Harvey Nash Board Report 2016/17 in association with London Business School’s Leadership Institute will inspire board chairs and directors to continue to improve, by taking research insights forward. For example, when boards view diversity as a business opportunity rather than a problem to be managed, and start to routinely have their behavioural dynamics assessed, they will create improved and sustainable value for their business.”

For more information, or to request a copy of the Harvey Nash Board Report 2016/17 please visit

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Notes to editors

Key survey findings

  • Only 14% say their boards have a fully comprehensive digital strategy
  • 45% say their digital strategies are somewhat incomplete or not at all complete
  • 26% of UK boards have never had an external evaluation
  • 45% of the boards of APAC companies have never had an external evaluation
  • Only 45% of UK boards have had an evaluation in the last two years
  • 58% of non-executives indicate ‘good business’ is on the agenda of most of the boards they are a member of. The primary reason for being ‘good’ is to improve employer engagement
  • 63% of boards are actively pursuing more diverse functional expertise
  • 48% of boards are actively pursuing gender diversity
  • Areas of diversity actively pursued by boards:

18-10-2016 12-21-18.png

About the Harvey Nash Board Research 2016/17:

The Harvey Nash Board Research 2016/17 collected quantitative and qualitative data during the summer 2016 and represents the views of 650+ Non-Executive Directors and chairs from across the UK, the Nordics and the Asia Pacific region via a quantitative survey and 56 qualitative interviews. Of the respondents, 49 per cent identified themselves as Non-Executive Directors, and 43 per cent were chairs or held both positions. Almost a third (32 per cent) served at companies with up to 5,000 employees, while a quarter (23 per cent) had roles at organisations with more than 5,000.

For more information about the survey and to request a full copy of the results, please contact Muns Ip

About Harvey Nash’s Board Practice:

Harvey Nash’s Board Practice helps some the world’s most forward-thinking companies attract, assess and develop their board. The global team members are experts at building rich, diverse teams and look beyond the norm to find the exceptional. The Board Practice provides two key service offerings: evaluation – reviewing the effectiveness of existing boards; and recruitment – finding exceptional talent to add strength to the boardroom team. Find out more at:

About Harvey Nash:

Established in 1988, Harvey Nash has supported many of the world’s leading organisations to recruit, source and manage the highly skilled talent they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive and technology driven world. With over 4,000 professionals in more than 40 offices across the USA, Europe and Asia, the Group has the reach and resources of a global organisation, whilst fostering a culture of innovation and agility that empowers its people to respond to constantly changing client needs. We work with clients, both large and small, to deliver a portfolio of services: executive search, professional recruitment and outsourcing.

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About London Business School’s Leadership Institute:

London Business School’s Leadership Institute, launched in 2014, aims and aspire to raise the standard of best practice in global leadership by:

  • Driving leadership research into practice by actively translating findings into teaching and outreach activities that cause leaders to rethink and improve their practice of leadership
  • Creating a generation of leaders who have a global view, a strong sense of community and who lead from their heart, as well as their head
  • Being a globally recognised destination for leaders to access research, teaching, and practice on leading and leadership

Its mission is to have a profound impact on the world through supporting the generation and application of path-breaking research on leadership.

At the Institute’s core is research across a spectrum of topics and disciplines, including successful leaders who embody our evidence-based teaching on leadership.

Leadership Institute

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Harvey Nash
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