Optix Solutions Board and Shadow Board

Shadow board provides healthy input into business processes

A forward-thinking Exeter digital marketing agency is reaping the benefits of implementing a shadow board.

Since Optix Solutions created the model over a year ago to ensure succession planning was in place and bring insights from a younger generation into strategic decision making the company has seen impressive growth of around 43 per cent.

“The primary intention is for the shadow board to bridge the gap between the established leadership and team-side employees who can offer fresh thinking and creativity,” explains Optix MD Rob Stevens.

“We realised that the board - whilst having the benefit of experience and ensuring the business kept up with fast paced digital change - could unknowingly be set in invisible patterns. Being able to receive guidance and challenges from the shadow board has given us fresh perspectives and a renewed hunger for success.”

The Optix shadow board comprises three career climbing employees with diverse roles in the business: Account Director Becky Brennan, Director of Strategy Thomas Haynes and Project Manager Samuel Skinner. Becky said:

“I haven’t had too much interaction with the board in previous roles, so having the opportunity to be challenged by them and hear the level of questions they ask has been invaluable for my development.

“They put trust in us to spend our time wisely and support us to instigate change. I feel more confident now about getting involved at a senior level, and they are very encouraging towards us as a senior team.”

The board tasks its shadows with assignments and in turn is questioned by them, helping to make sure the business has relevant perspectives and ultimately is accountable to its people.

Becky outlines one such example: “We told the board that with the business growing, we wanted a CRM solution. They asked us to put together a business case and research which solution would be right for us.

“After a number of presentations and rounds of feedback, we settled on Accelo and had the business case approved. Not only was this an invaluable process for us to be part of, but we felt really trusted to get the investment and be given approval to implement the tool. We then worked with Accelo to build the tool in the right way for us, and to train the team up in using it. We’re still very much in the optimisation phase for the tool, but the data and process we have access to now compared to before is astounding – and most importantly, we now feel like we’re set up for scaling the business going forward.”

Other shadow board suggestions have included a successful review of the holiday allowance, which is now 25 days plus an extra day for each year of service up to five years. There are also lighter tasks to debate. “The board asked us to write a ‘dogs in the workplace’ policy so we consulted the team and completed this policy. We are now an official dog friendly zone and everyone has signed a document to agree to this!”

While these are currently voluntary roles, the three benefit from monthly business coaching and training provided by South West Growth Services.

In the long term, Rob says, the implementation of the shadow board could lead to Optix becoming an employee-owned business. “That will certainly be one route the business could travel.”

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