Shadow boards in talent management

Dirk Buyens

By Dirk Buyens

Professor of Human Resources Management

Koen Dewettinck

By Koen Dewettinck

Professor of Human Resources Management

Sarah Quataert

By Sarah Quataert

Senior Researcher, Human Resource Management

19 April 2022

Despite the influx of younger generations in our workforce, many companies are still run solely by a traditional board of directors. Though they are packed with experience and wisdom, it is sometimes hard for board members to escape the ivory tower.  When this happens, the existing board of directors might not stay closely attuned to the latest developments, such as demographics, product or service development, technology, or marketing.

It seems many organisations struggle with the same challenges: How to successfully integrate the younger generations’ insights? How to create career perspectives in delayering organisations? And how to stay ahead of disruption in the digital marketplace, with a slow or sometimes weak response to changing market conditions?

Shadow boards were created to provide answers to these questions. In essence, a shadow board is a group of non-executive employees, regardless of level, that works together (or in parallel) with senior executives on strategic initiatives. They typically receive the same agenda as the executive committee to be sure to avoid group thinking in the existing executive committee. As such, they will challenge organisations to think about their business or operations from a new paradigm. The purpose is to leverage the younger group’s insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to. Synonyms for shadow boards are shadow executive board, shadow comex/codir/excom, millennial excom, millennial board, excom-Y, or mirror board.

Vlerick’s Centre for Excellence in Strategic Talent Management studied the appearance of shadow boards in Belgian organisations. Our respondents indicated that shadow boards exist in different formats and can deviate from the definition we find in the literature.

This white paper discusses the origin of the shadow board, the added value that it can bring to the organisation, and how to effectively integrate it into the talent development process. Some national and international cases are highlighted to show the different forms a shadow board can take and inspire organisations eager to build one themselves.

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Sarah Quataert

Sarah Quataert

Senior Researcher