How to rewrite the board rules to change business for good

Holly Branson speaking at an 100% Human at Work gathering
Tom Soper
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 25 January 2024

It’s time to rewrite the board rules, because culture change needs to come from the very top. I’m so proud of the 100% Human at Work network’s efforts to ensure people sit at the heart of every decision a board makes. I was immediately intrigued by this line of work, which aims to create a new set of guiding principles for Boards, as it aligns perfectly with what I’m trying to achieve as Virgin’s Chief Purpose and Vision Officer. I firmly believe in Dad’s philosophy that your people are your greatest assets as a business, but how is this philosophy cemented at a board-level? A human-first approach to business is becoming increasingly encouraged at management and leadership levels, but effective change needs to come from the very, very top. 

Holly Branson speaking at an 100% Human at Work Gathering
Tom Soper

To help kick-off this line of work, I joined an 100% Human at Work gathering in London to discuss how we can drive this change with a room full of purpose-driven C-Suite leaders, board members, people leaders, and executive directors. I hosted a session with the brilliant Syreeta Brown (Group Chief People and Communications Officer at Virgin Money) to discuss how Virgin Money implemented its incredible people strategy, ‘A Life More Virgin’ and how this has future-proofed and humanised its board. I also spoke about how we changed our Articles of Association (aka the rules that dictate how a company is run) at Virgin to prioritise people, planet, and purpose in equal measure to profit. This has proven to be such a powerful way of enforcing change at all levels of the business, and that includes the board.

To help businesses build more human-centric boards, the network developed some initial ideas, including:

  1. Clearly define both the ‘business’ and ‘human’ case for embedding people metrics at board level.

  2. Shape a set of guiding principles for boards to measure success.

  3. Rethink incentive structures.

  4. Partner with others to help shape and pilot new guiding principles for the board.

  5. Launch the board’s new guiding principles to the wider business community.

Holly Branson speaking at an 100% Human at Work gathering
Tom Soper

The network also shared some helpful questions that we should be asking boards, based off conversations the network has had in the US and in Australia. These include: 

  1. What incentive structures are stopping us from being 100% Human? 

  2. Who is missing from the table? 

  3. What rituals/practices can we put in place to get the board proximate to stakeholders? 

  4. What barriers are stopping us from putting people at the center of our company? 

  5. How do we evolve our storytelling/language to build a human culture? 

Jean Oelwang speaking at an 100% Human at Work gathering
Tom Soper

Thank you to everyone who joined the gathering and showing your commitment to putting people at the heart of your business, and understanding the positive ripple effect it will have throughout your entire organisation. I would also like to thank Syreeta and everyone at Virgin Money for exemplifying how a large business (even in banking!) can be driven by purpose and put people first. I’m very excited to see where this line of work takes us all.

Here’s more about the 100% Human At Work network, and its efforts to shape a more human future of work.