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Avoiding echo chambers on boards

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Camera focus on a boss chair. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

The Queen is dead, long live the King. Since September 8, the entire world has been riveted to the screens watching British international media like BBC and Sky News reporting daily about the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Okay, truth be told, the rest of the world moved on as the war in Ukraine heated up while back in this neck of the woods we geared up for the presidential inauguration.

The British, most understandably, did not move on and their media reported incessantly on this major news item, often running out of new things to report so multiple “royal experts” would be brought on air to opine on the Queen’s record-breaking 70-year monarchy or opine on the new King’s anticipated rule.

Except that in the former colonies social media erupted with an entirely different perspective of the Queen’s legacy. In India, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Jamaica to name a few, pundits weighed in with an alternative view of the Queen’s legacy, some of it too offensive to repeat here.

The foundation of the rancour was Britain’s colonial legacy of violence. Apparently, Her Majesty’s soldiers undertook massive atrocities in the name of maintaining the British empire together with the pillage of local resources that, according to the social media commentators, form the basis of much of the royal wealth.

The Koh-i-Noor diamond, an egg-sized diamond believed to be the largest diamond in the world, is 105.6 carats and sits in the crown of the late Queen Mother. It is claimed by India.

According to an article in the IFL Science online magazine, the diamond was presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1850 by the British East India Company following their victory in the second Anglo- Sikh war when the Kingdom of Punjab was taken under British control.

The 530.2 carat Cullinam 1 diamond, also known as the Great Star of Africa, is mounted on the Queen’s sceptre and was found in 1905 in South Africa.

It was handed to the royal family by South Africa’s colonial authorities in 1905. In Kenya, there was much chatter about the raping and killing of thousands of natives in the period leading up to our independence in 1963.

Social media in the former colonies was not about to whitewash the ugly side of British rule and the Queen’s death triggered these unfortunate memories. I met a visiting British national two weeks ago and he was asking about what the mood was locally, as he had just landed from the United Kingdom where the country was deeply immersed in mourning.

I showed him the Internet chatter, including the incendiary and highly controversial post by South Africa’s Julius Malema on what Queen Elizabeth’s death meant to them and the visitor realised what an echo chamber currently existed in the UK regarding the royal monarchy. I ended our conversation with the Commonwealth joke: What is Britain’s greatest export? Independence Days.

Echo chambers exist everywhere. Particularly on corporate boards. An echo chamber is defined as an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.

Due to the limited interaction that board members have with employees and customers, an ever-present danger exists of only hearing the good news according to the gospel of the chief executive officer and senior management.

Under the German two-tier corporate governance framework, companies are required to have supervisory and management boards.

Supervisory board is the apex body where the shareholder interests are represented while management board is made up of senior executives. Under German law referred to as co-determination the supervisory boards are required to have employee representatives.

Depending on the size of the company, this requirement is anywhere from one third to half of board members must be employee representatives.

For instance, in companies with more than 2,000 employees, half the board should be made up of employee representatives but the shareholders choose the chairman who has a casting vote in the event of a stalemate.

The parity introduced by having employee representatives on the apex corporate organ is meant to elevate employees as key stakeholders thereby reducing the “driving for shareholder value” effect of typical western-styled boardrooms.

There is significant debate on whether the net effect of such a board system generates better performance, something I will unpack further next week. But one thing is guaranteed for sure, no echo chamber can exist in such a co-determined board environment.

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Twitter: @carolmusyoka