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  • Jennifer Jordan & Michael Sorell

Why You Should Create a “Shadow Board” of Younger Employees


A lot of companies struggle with two apparently unrelated problems: disengaged younger workers and a weak response to changing market conditions. A few companies have tackled both problems at the same time by creating a “shadow board” — a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The purpose? To leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.

They seem to work. Consider Prada and Gucci, two fashion companies with a good track record of keeping up with — or shaping — consumer tastes. Until recently, Prada enjoyed high margins, a legendary creative director, and good growth opportunities. But since 2014, it has witnessed declining sales. In 2017, the company finally admitted that it had been “slow in realizing the importance of digital channels and the blogging online ‘influencers’ which are disrupting the industry.” Co-CEO Patrizio Bertelli said, “We made a mistake.”

Over the same period, under the direction of CEO Mario Bizzarri, Gucci underwent a comprehensive transformation that made the company more relevant to today’s marketplace. Gucci created a shadow board composed of Millennials who, since 2015, have met regularly with the senior team. According to Bizzarri, the shadow board includes people drawn from different functions; they’re “the most talented people in the organization — many of them very young.” They talk through the issues that the executive committee is focused on and their insights have “served as a wakeup call for the executives.” Gucci’s sales have since grown 136% — from 3,497 million Euro (FY2014) to 8,285 million Euro (FY2018) — a growth driven largely by the success of both its internet and digital strategies. In the same period, Prada’s sales have dropped by 11.5%, from 3,551 million Euro (FY2014) to 3,142 million Euro (FY2018).

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