The benefits of creating a shadow board of younger employees

Partnering younger employees and senior executives, “what could go wrong?”. Or perhaps the more pertinent question is “what could go right?”. The answer, according to research by Harvard Business Review (HBR), is that shadow boards – where a younger shadow board of directors work with senior executives on strategic initiatives – help with business model reinvention, process redesign, and cultural transformation, to name a few of the potential benefits to organisations.

One notable success story from the HBR analysis was that of the fashion house Gucci. In 2015, under the direction of CEO Mario Bizzarri, Gucci set up a shadow board in a bid to make the company more relevant to today’s marketplace. The shadow board is made up of millennials who regularly meet with the senior team and talk through different issues the executive committee is focused on. Bizzarri described their conversations and insights as a “wake-up call for the executives”. And better yet, since 2015 Gucci’s sales have grown by 136%. Gucci attributes this growth largely to the success of its digital strategies, presumably thanks to its millennial advisors’ social media proficiency.

Does your board of executives require a similar wake-up call? Read on to discover the various benefits of shadow boards and best practices for the development and implementation of a shadow board in your organisation.


What is a shadow board?

 A shadow board (aka shadow committee or mirror board) is a diverse group of younger (typically Generation Z and millennials) non-executive employees established to work with the executive board (typically middle-aged Gen Xers and baby boomers).

The purpose of the shadow board is to expose senior decision-makers to new perspectives, feedback, and ideas to help inform the company’s strategic initiatives for customers and employees. By bridging the generational gap, setting up a shadow board prepares your organisation for new customer segments, market conditions, and trends.

A shadow board might be called upon to contribute to:

  • strategic planning
  • business plans
  • product or service development
  • business model redesign
  • technology
  • marketing
  • value chain updates
  • organisational or cultural transformation.


What are the benefits of a shadow board?

 Shadow boards are mutually beneficial for the organisation, senior executives and young employees. Some of the greatest benefits of shadow boards include:

  • Cultural inclusivity: One of the most significant benefits of creating a shadow board is that they ensure your senior team is connected to the changing and future expectations of younger demographics. Having a shadow board program builds respect, empathy and understanding across organisational levels causing a ‘ripple effect’, where both executive and non-executive participants become role models and facilitate diverse and inclusive thinking and practices in their work and team.
  • Visibility: A positive workplace culture (where employees feel valued) is a top priority for Gen Z and millennial employees when choosing an organisation to work for according to recent research. Shadow boards provide younger employees with a vital forum to voice their ideas, insights, trends, and concerns and bring about change, making them feel seen and valued by the organisation and emotionally buy into its success.
  • Foster high potentials: This study revealed learning and development and opportunities to progress/ grow in their career are among the top priorities for Gen Z and millennial employees in their workplace. Shadow boards provide younger, less experienced employees with the development opportunity to navigate complexity, learn about governance and gain exposure to the nuances and challenges of senior leadership. They get the opportunity to learn about the company’s decision-making processes, its big picture strategy and the inner workings of the board which they can teach their peers about. Also, it allows for succession planning where organisations can develop a strong pipeline of diverse talent with deep knowledge of the business and how to operate at senior levels.
  • Unearth talent: Through an open-application process, organisations can identify and unearth hidden diverse talent at the same time as exposing senior team members to talent from across the organisation.
  • Drive innovation: Creating an inclusive culture and leadership practices increases the team’s ability to share knowledge, innovate and collaborate on employee and customer-facing initiatives. Developing diversity of thought during leadership forums and strategic planning allows for greater disruption, creativity and new ideas and perspectives to surface. The shadow board also allows testing of new ideas and change initiatives targeting younger generations before implementing them at scale.


How to create a shadow board


Step 1. Select a diverse group.

 The development of a shadow board is an opportunity for more diversity to be part of your company’s strategy and operational initiatives. When selecting team members for the shadow board you may want to focus on specific areas in the selection process (e.g. age, gender, cultural background, expertise and personality) to bring as diverse a mix of perspectives forward as possible and tap into insights from underrepresented groups on the board. Alternatively, you may like to have an open-application process where anyone that fits the criteria can apply to sit on the shadow board.

Step 2. CEO support.

The CEO will need to role model commitment, openness and vulnerability to bring about meaningful change within the organisation through your shadow board program. Be mindful that the process of having a shadow board is designed to create disruption and may trigger difficult emotions for all involved, so strong leadership from the CEO is essential.

Step 3. Develop a clear structure.

We suggest openly sharing the purpose of the shadow board, how it will work and the selection process across the organisation. And we recommend doing between 12-18 month rotations for your shadow board members. At Inkling, we can partner with you to determine the best shadow board structure and processes to follow to get your shadow team and exec team effectively working together.

Step 4. Measure impact.

Critical to the success of a shadow board, is the ongoing measurement of its impact. Use confidential, regular, and structured methods, like employee interviews, surveys, and polls, to gather feedback from your shadow board members and executive board members during rotations. This allows for the program to be continually tweaked and finessed to reach the optimal working relationship between boards.

 Step 5. Provide training and skill building.

Both shadow board and executive board team members will require structured professional development. This could involve a combination of short learning sessions, workshops with peers, coaching and webinars. Inkling can provide guidance and training for skill building, coaching and feedback for your team.

Want to set up a shadow board?

Shadow boards are an effective way to break down generational barriers, build trust, and bring diverse groups together to solve problems and respond to fast-evolving market dynamics.

The Inkling team can assist with the development and implementation of a shadow board at your organisation, drawing on performance psychology and behavioural science. Get in touch to find out how we can help you unlock the potential of both your executive team and shadow board through our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Advisory Services.

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