Learning from startups, and achieving better board dynamics

by David Lancefield Partner, Strategy&


In the fifth podcast in our Transformation Talks series, I talk with Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, President of techUK, an organisation that helps over 950 member companies - from FTSE-100 groups to startups - grow. We discuss how large organisations and start-ups can collaborate during transformations, what it takes for boards to work well and much more. Listen to the full interview on Soundcloud, iTunes or acast.

One of the most fascinating issues I’ve wrestled with when it comes to transformation is the comparative strengths and weaknesses of large organisations and start-ups, and how their capabilities and cultures help or hinder a transformation. Jacqueline is incredibly well placed to tackle this issue, not just thanks to her role as President of techUK but because of her wide range of experience in working with startups and sitting on the boards of large companies - such as UK engineering and construction group Costain.

Take a look below at the main themes from the discussion if you don’t have time to listen to the podcast now. 

1. Take full advantage of the fact that large organisations can learn from startups - and vice-versa.
There are only a few executives who have worked in both large organisations trying to reinvent themselves, as well as in start-ups. Bringing together the experiences and lessons of both those types of role is important - and can be very fruitful. Start-ups can learn about management practices, while large organisations can learn about how entrepreneurs look for opportunities from the frustrations and problems that their customers face. 

Jacqueline says: “When you have a start-up that is operating with a large company, lots of companies have incubator programmes and the reason they have them is because if they find a great idea then they will use it right across their global business and that is an absolute win-win.”

2. There are two key ingredients when it comes to getting things done at the board level: listen, and be heard.
It’s important to be on boards where there isn’t a significant misalignment in people or style. That makes it easier to really connect with other board members. Connecting means really listening, and being present - especially in the technology world, which is very much focused on “being in the future”. And making the other person feel significant.

Jacqueline says: “I’ve studied a lot on neuro-linguistic programming and how to move agendas through language and suggestion and I find all of that comes into play in the boardroom.”

3. Diversity is key to any technology transformation.
Jacqueline works in an industry - technology - that is moving at such a pace that it is almost ungovernable. In particular, it’s hard to regulate a business where technology is being created based on algorithms that may have unconscious human bias in them. One way to tackle this is by adopting an approach that Jacqueline heard from a young data scientist she once met: in order to govern this world, we must have diversity in every single design team.

Jacqueline says: “If you want to make seismic shifts the narrative has to shift. And that narrative is that the more diverse a team is, the better business and human outcome you will achieve.”

For the full conversation where Jacqueline de Rojas tells us about her transformation journey, click here.

If you’d like to see more of the series you can find links to each episode below:

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by David Lancefield Partner, Strategy&