Tackling modern governance with Diligent
On this episode of TELUS International Studios, we're joined by Dottie Schindlinger, executive director of the Diligent Institute and co-host of the Corporate Director Podcast for Diligent Corporation. Diligent helps companies manage their governance, risk and compliance requirements, and the Diligent Institute serves as the research arm of the organization.
Diligent not only enables company leaders to streamline the day-to-day running of governance operations, but also to turn governance into a competitive advantage through the data their SaaS platform provides. As a result, Diligent's customer base is comprised of over 700,000 board directors and leaders around the world. We hope you enjoy the episode.
To learn more about TELUS International and our digital CX solutions, contact us.
Intro: TELUS International Studios where customer experience meets digital transformation.
Patrick Haughey (PH): Welcome back to TELUS International Studios. The podcast series about world class customer experience, digital technologies and how the two increasingly intersect. I'm Patrick Haughey. And throughout this series, I meet the people on the frontlines of CX and technology. If you have been enjoying these interviews, please do click, follow or subscribe and leave a rating or review. It really, really helps more people like you to discover the series. So those clicks are much appreciated. So on this episode, my guest is Dottie Schindlinger, who is the executive director of the Diligent Institute and co-host of the corporate director podcast for Diligent Corporation. Of course, one of the big challenges of running a successful company is to stay on top of all of the governance, risk and compliance requirements and activities that businesses are required to meet. Not only do they take time and lots of people power, but they are constantly changing and evolving. So this side of operations takes constant work. Think about all of the things that company leaders have had to navigate even in just the last few years. Things like ESG, diversity and inclusion, climate change, A.I. and ML, cryptocurrency, COVID 19. The list goes on. Diligent’s unique proposition is not only to have company leaders streamline the day to day running of governance operations, but also to turn it into a competitive advantage through the data and the SAS applications that Diligent provides. And as a result, Diligent's customer base comprises over 700000 board directors and leaders globally. As always, on TELUS International Studios, our guest kicks off the conversation by describing their company in their own words. So let's hand over to Dottie Schindlinger.
Dottie Schindlinger (DS): Well, Diligent Corporation is a software company, SAS software company that is global. And we basically focus on providing solutions that help across the full spectrum of governance, risk and compliance activities for nearly every kind of organisation. We at this point serve over 25000 organisations around the globe. Over a million users are using the software basically every day. And most of our users are senior leaders of organisations, including the board of directors. Diligent really got its start as a company providing software to help make board meetings more streamlined and secure. And over the years, as the activities of governance has really expanded and grown, so has our company. And so now we're really focused across compliance and audit risk oversight, you know, really the whole gamut of things that roll up under the board's purview.
PH: Really interesting, and I'm fascinated to hear about it, and so you touched on it there in relation to who would, I guess, use Diligent, use the platform, use the service. Maybe just dig into that a little bit more. Who would be your typical customer? Is it somebody is it, you know, a member of the board? Is it the C level? Is it all of the above?
DS: Yeah, it's a great question. You know, we do work with a pretty broad base of different personas, if you will. So I would say traditionally when we were focused more on what was happening in the boardrooms, most of our direct day to day administrators and users tended to be people that were part of that universe. So think the board members themselves, think the C suite executives of the organisation, think the corporate secretary or the company secretary, maybe the general counsel, other members of the legal team, you know, maybe in some cases also the CIO or the chief information technology provider there who would just make sure that everything is working correctly and being kept secure. But as I've mentioned, we recently acquired two large companies and have become the largest SAS provider of GRC solutions on Earth. And so now we also are working with a number of chief compliance officers, risk professionals, internal auditors, more members of the legal team or members of the finance team. So it's become a much broader list of individuals that we work with. The other thing that is pretty recent for us, we just announced a new solution set around ESG environment, social and governance. And so now we're also working with the heads of sustainability, maybe the chief sustainability officer and in some cases other members of that team, to really make sure the company is upholding its commitments around climate, social programs and other things that are about stakeholder capitalism. So it's become a really a pretty broad, eclectic universe of people that we work with.
PH: I would imagine so, and in such a fast moving world, we don't know, we haven't necessarily always associated corporate governance boardrooms with being fast moving and, you know, lightning speeds. But it feels in the last couple of years or few years that this might be changing because society seems to be changing a at a faster pace than maybe it would have a decade or two ago. You mentioned ESG, gender and diversity, COVID 19, crypto, all of the different digital technologies that have entered the workforce. Am I right? Has the pace picked up?
DS: You're absolutely right, Patrick, in fact, my CEO, Brian Stafford, and I co-wrote a book back in 2019 called Governance in the Digital Age, where we were really exploring some of these themes, you know, not how boards are using technology, but how the impact of the speed of information and the speed of technological innovation has completely transformed what we think of as governance. And I think it's helpful to remember that what we think of as governance in the boardroom really kind of got its start in the sixteen hundreds and then didn't really change all that much until probably the last five or 10 years where, you know, now you have a situation where an errant tweet could bring down a company. And so that really changes what boards have to be focused on. They have to be much more attuned to their customer base, to their employees. They have to understand where they're really positioned in the market in a much more sophisticated and real time fashion. And so, you know, just providing big paper packets of material to the board four times a year, it just doesn't cut it anymore. That's not sufficient for board members to be able to do an adequate job of oversight and strategic direction. So when we think about how things are changing, there's really, I would say, sort of five key areas where we're seeing things moving very, very rapidly. One is in this area of what we call ESG environment, social and governance.
DS: That is an area that has just absolutely exploded in the last few years. And it kind of maybe was a topic that was always going to gain traction. But I think everybody sort of hoped it would have gained traction faster than it has. But now, you know, we have the new U.N. report on the state of the climate. We have so many social movements that have been picking up steam, particularly during this time of a global pandemic, when people are feeling restless and anxious. And, you know, the world is so uncertain. All of these things are coming to a head in the boardroom because for board members, they have to be able to try to see around the corner what is going to be the next big thing that either represents an opportunity or a potential risk or threat facing their organisation. And there's such a high level and high degree of uncertainty, they've been having trouble kind of getting their arms wrapped around it. So really focusing on ESG and understanding what is our impact on the climate, what you know, what's our long term sustainability as an enterprise and how are we impacting our stakeholders beyond just the shareholders? What's the full impact on stakeholders? Having that clarity has become a big topic for boards. I would say related to that topic is, you know, clearly a focus on climate change. Climate change, as I mentioned, is a big part of ESG, but it's also really got its own standing as something that has become much more critical, I think, during the time of the pandemic lots of organisations saw how climate also played a role in disrupting supply chains, changing workforce locations and, you know, employee health and welfare. Even the pandemic itself, the speed with which it spread. In some cases, you can kind of point back to what's happening with climate change as having a role to play in the spread of the disease. So I think it's really important that organisations are seeing climate change and climate risk as a major source of enterprise risk and really need to have better metrics and better insight into what's happening with their organisations. And then again, as other part of the ESG is diversity. So social programs for companies have been a big part of what they've been doing for a very long time. But we are really in a time where our global population is becoming less and less majority white. And as that happens, we have to be responsive to the needs and interests of all the stakeholders of the organisations that we serve. We can't just pretend that, you know, things are going to go on forever as they have. They shouldn't. We need to be responsive to the customers, the employees, the investors of our organisations. And so diversity, particularly in the leadership, both in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, LGBTQ status, these things really matter. This is a strategic and competitive advantage for organisations if they want to be sustainable over the long term.
I would also say that number four would be cyber risk. We are seeing an explosion of cyber-crime all throughout the time of this pandemic. Maybe not so surprisingly, because so many employees and leaders have had to work completely remotely. Companies are very hard pressed to do an adequate job of cyber risk oversight. And so, again, that's an area that has really changed practices in the boardroom. Boards, really now understand they have to have as much sophisticated understanding of cyber risk as they do financial risk if their organisation is going to continue to thrive. And then finally, I would say the sort of flip side of that coin would be digital transformation and digital innovation. You know, you've got to have boards be much more sophisticated on topics like A.I. and block chain and cryptocurrency. Now, these are things now that are regular topics of conversation in boardrooms. And in fact, there's been some research recently to show that when boards have digitally savvy directors and they speak more frequently about these topics, those companies far outperform their peers. And so it's also become clearly a competitive advantage to think more innovatively and to really double down on digital technology and make that make your strategy digital first. So those are, I think, sort of the five big trends that are happening in the governance space these days.
PH: Well, it's a busy, busy time for the people that you deal with and that you try and help. And, you know, they are five big things. And I would imagine if you are somebody charged with, you know, dealing with these and staying on top of all of the challenges you just mentioned, it can be a lonely place to be and it can be very important to network and meet your peers and people dealing with the same things in other companies and feeling that. So the last year or two during COVID must have been a real challenge for directors and for those charged with this, because there's no networking, there's no getting together for coffees, really, and chatting this stuff out. Is that something that you've witnessed?
DS: You know, it's really fascinating. And I mentioned I come from the Diligent Institute, which is Diligent Corporation's corporate governance research arm and think tank. And at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, we started to do some research where we basically just picked up the phone and called corporate directors to find out what is this experience like from your perspective? And we end up interviewing about 50 different directors around the world just to try to get a read on what was changing. And what we learned was that, you know, there were pros and cons to what they were experiencing. On the one hand, they felt that they were better connected with each other and with their companies than they had ever been before. Even though they were remote, the frequency of contact had really escalated. So they were now, in some cases, having weekly meetings. This is right at the start of the pandemic. And as you know, there was a huge concern about supply chain disruption because so many factories and things had shut down in China and in Italy, and it had a huge downstream impact on just about every enterprise. And so, you know, having weekly conversations about, you know, how are we doing around our supply chain, how is our workforce? And also, just how is the executive team doing? Is everyone OK? One of the key phrases we heard over and over again in those interviews that directors said they had to tap into their empathy, that they had never seen empathy as a skill that was required to be a good director.
But during the pandemic, they learned how critical that was, and they were really using their reserves of empathy on a regular basis. So I don't know that it's necessarily accurate to say that people felt disconnected. I think we just connected differently. And clearly, there are times when getting together in person is an absolute advantage. You know, if you're going to have a deep strategic conversation where you really want to have some type of an educational retreat, where you go deep on to a topic, you know, doing that over Zoom, for example, is not ideal. You're not going to have the same experience. It's not going to be an opportunity for bonding like you would have if we're together in person. And yet, you know, when companies had no other choice, they managed it, they did it. It wasn't maybe perfect, but they actually were fine. And what they found is in some cases, there were things that were better. For example, we heard from directors, they really liked the efficiency of board meetings in this new virtual world, and they don't want to lose that. So I think what we're likely to see is a hybrid approach from now on. I don't think we go all the way back to one or all the way back to the other. I think from now on, we're likely to see a bit of a hybrid approach.
PH: Yeah. And you know, it's a much talked about topic, but I definitely want to ask you your views, because you were dealing with just so many people at a high level, and you have a real bird's eye view of this. But, you know, a year or two's time when you mentioned the hybrid model, do you think that's going to be most likely, you know, two or three days a week in the office to two or three days out of it? Is that going to be the approach when it comes to how we work?
DS: Well, isn't that the three million dollar question? You know, everybody's asking that question right now. What is it going to look like? And I don't think anybody really knows. But what we can say is that in survey after survey after survey, the workforce is saying that they want that flexibility. And we are I mean, let's not kid ourselves. We are absolutely in a talent crunch right now. There is, you know, kind of a high demand for employees and employees are seeing that they're in high demand and realizing that they maybe have a little bit of influence now, a little bit of power to say what they're comfortable with. What we're seeing is that a lot of employees want to stay fully remote. Some are interested in a hybrid approach, but a lot more employees want to stay fully remote than at any other point in time. And I think we've all seen that, you know, you can have a very successful experience working fully remote. I mean, a lot of companies have thrived during this time of a remote work approach. So it just really depends on the role. Now, it's also very fair to say I'm speaking most specifically about knowledge workers, you know, still something like 62 percent of jobs cannot be performed remotely, and I think we have to acknowledge that and recognise we're not talking about every part of the workforce. But I think what we can say is for the parts of the workforce, where working remote is an option, employees are being pretty clear. They want that option. They want that flexibility. Now, I'll just take our own company, for example. We have recently opened two new offices. One is in Galway, Ireland, which is our big support centre for customers. And we've also opened a technology excellence centre in Budapest. And what we're hearing from those that we've hired to work in those offices you know we hired most of them when we were in the middle of shutdowns. And so they weren't able to go to the physical office. And we know that moving forward, they may want to work from home at least a few days a week. And we're trying to make that very easy for everybody so that they can be comfortable and they can have a good experience. At the same time, all of those employees were brand new. So they feel maybe a little bit at war with themselves of wanting to meet their colleagues in person and, you know, maybe go out to the pub after work for a pint and still have the flexibility of being able to work from home, especially if they've got young children or they've got, you know, others in their household that they have to provide care for. We want to be able to give them that kind of flexibility. I think every employer is having these same conversations right now. I don't know that anybody has a perfect answer except to say you got to keep in touch with your employees and your workforce and understand what is going to make them the most successful and the most productive and really focus on that.
PH: And that's where that empathy you speak about is going to shine through again, it's the value of empathy is not going away anytime soon. So you mentioned, opening up in in Galway there, what was behind the decision to open up, to establish a base in Ireland?
DS: Well, you know, there were a number of things that went into it. But first and foremost, as a company, most of our workforce is actually located outside the U.S. We're a big international company. And while we kind of got our start in the U.S., we have a big base of operation right now in London. And we also had a base of operation in Amsterdam and in Munich. And we decided that we wanted to kind of consolidate everything into one support office. And that included all of the support that used to be based in the U.S. We wanted to make sure we had a support centre of excellence in a location that would be nice and centrally located. And quite frankly, you know, working at Ireland was just absolutely perfect. There are so many incredibly talented people who are looking for jobs in Ireland. It's a huge kind of a young workforce, very dynamic, you know, technically skilled, very well educated. It was really kind of the perfect situation. And Galway is just so beautiful. We were able to find just gorgeous office space. We could build it out to our specifications. It just every - it ticked every box. It was absolutely perfect. And so we're so excited to have a presence in Ireland and specifically in Galway. We're really excited to build up that workforce and really become a kind of an engine of change, not just for our customers around the world, but maybe also in the community. We hope to really, you know, have a positive impact wherever we go.
PH: Very nice. And speaking of customer support, customer care, customer experience , what approach do you guys take? You know, I know we've mentioned empathy a few times. Empathy is always a - is a key one. But because of the nature of your customer, very high level, very senior, does that dictate that a certain type of approach, certain channels, et cetera, is required?**
DS: It absolutely does, Patrick. I think the way we've always thought about it is concierge level support. So where we really want it to be, when someone picks up the phone to call us, they get an answer on no more than two rings and they speak immediately to someone who can help them. It's not a situation where that person has to go ask seven or eight other people to get support, but that person stays on the phone with that leader and gets them the support they need right there in the minute. That's extremely important because, you know, the kind of work that we're doing, it's very high stakes. You know, think about what's happening at a at a regular board meeting or at a senior executive team meeting. You know, the decision time frame is very short. This is mission critical. They must be able to use the technology in the moment. It has to work solidly one hundred percent of the time. And so if they've got a concern, you know, they can't connect for some reason. They're not seeing something. They expect to see something has gone wrong. They need help right then. They can't, you know, wait 24 hours for a phone call back. So that level of service is extremely important to us. It's something that we really pride ourselves on doing well. You know, that's not to say that we don't always challenge ourselves to do better, but it is something that we've won many awards over the years for our level of customer service just being super responsive and instant. And it's really been part of our brand. It's something we're very proud of and never want to compromise on. It's extremely important.
PH: Yeah. I'm fascinated by this two rings answer. Tell me a bit more about that. How do you actually logistically make sure that happens?
DS: Well, one of the ways is that we've made sure to have support centres in different time zones around the world, and so when one team is about to go offline, the next team is already up and running. And there's been a very smooth handoff if there's a case that is still being worked. All the notes are in our central database, which is all cloud hosted. So they can just find everything that's going on. And there's just no interruption at all in providing support. And then we also make sure that we have support offered on all the bank holidays, on all weekends. And we just do that around the globe. We have, you know, key offices to make sure we've got that support system just absolutely running solid. We also, you know, can see in our servers the peak times when we're likely to have the most usage. And so when we know that there's going to be a lot of our users engaging with the software, that's when we have the largest offices online. Right. So we always make sure that we have enough coverage and enough, you know, talented, knowledgeable support system specialists who can pick up the phone within one or two rings and be right there to answer the question. And that really has to do with sort of the peaks and troughs of usage on the system. So we make sure that we've staffed it appropriately to match.
PH: Yeah, operationally, it's just so detailed, a customer - a well-run, well-oiled customer care machine takes so much planning and so much detail and so much prediction, I guess, based on data.
DS: It really does, yeah.
PH: Well, for anyone, you know, and I guess not everyone listening would be in companies that can provide that that level of support, those companies might be smaller, etc. But your views just finally on the customer care side, what advice would you give to companies who, you know, who may not be able to afford that level of support, but who still want to provide really high class quality care? What advice would you give them today?
DS: Well, you know, it's really interesting. One of the things that we've been doing quite a bit of this year as we've been hiring up and, you know, really building out our new presence in Galway is providing a lot of training about governance to our new hires. And you might think, why do they need to learn about governance? They just need to be good support professionals. But our feeling is that in order to be a really competent and good support professional, you have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the person that you're speaking with. Empathy is really the skill that we're trying to build. We're trying to help people understand when someone makes a call and says they can't connect. It's really helpful if you understand what's at stake. You know, it's really good to know they might be in the middle of a board meeting. Well, what does that mean? You know, and what does that actually look like? What does that entail? If they can sort of envision what that person's reality is like, they can provide much better care. And listen, you know, it's true that sometimes you may get a support call and you can't help someone right at that minute. So having someone who can say, listen, I know how frustrating this is, I know what you're going through, I'm not going to leave you. I don't have an answer right now, but I'm going to make sure you get an answer as soon as humanly possible. That is so helpful for the person on the receiving end. To just know that someone actually cares, that they actually understand what's at stake and feel that stress along with them. That makes a huge difference. So we're really kind of trying to focus on empathy. I would say that is a winning strategy. Building that kind of knowledge and empathy for your support professionals is absolutely critical.
PH: Yeah, it's fascinating. And I would imagine from an employee experience, it's really important, too, because they're more valued, they're more valuable. They're not just popped onto a machine to pop on any kind of topic, that you just go through the motions. They have a better understanding and you put more trust in them.
DS: Exactly. Well, and it's been so fun, you know, as we've been bringing the new staff on board, I actually have taught a number of what we call our Governance 101 classes, you know, sort of to each new cohort of hires. And it's just been such a wonderful experience. They have such great questions. You know, for some of them, this is the first time they're ever even encountering what a board of directors does. And so they're really curious about it. They really want to know, you know, what's happening and what does that look like? And they go through a very rigorous training program before they start speaking to customers. And I've just been so delighted to hear the questions. They have the care with which they're taking that material and they're learning what they're supposed to be doing. It's very exciting. I have to imagine that from their perspective, it's pretty rewarding. You know, we really care that we're helping them to become smarter about this critical part of business that's going to help them no matter where they go in their career. And so hopefully they're seeing this as an opportunity to grow and professionally develop for their own careers as well.
PH: Well, look, it's podcast nerd-out time, but let's keep this short, Dottie. Tell us a little bit about the corporate director podcast and what you try to do, what kind of podcast is it? What do you hope to achieve with it?
DS: Yeah, thanks for asking Patrick. So we started the podcast back in 2019 right after our book came out, because we realised, you know, the moment you write a book about anything having to do with technology, it's going to be dated before it even goes to press. And so we wanted to find a way to keep the material fresh. And one of the things we did in the book was interview quite a large number of directors and CEOs. And we thought, you know, wouldn't it be great if we just kept interviewing directors and CEOs and governance researchers and just keep the conversation fresh? So that was the initial impulse for the show. It comes out every other Wednesday, and basically it's usually between about 40 minutes to an hour long. And we interview one or two CEOs and directors or governance researchers on some thematic topic that is really hot at that moment. And then my co-host, Megan Day and I will riff a little bit on some of the news. So we are both avid readers of governance information we're huge governance geeks. And so we tend to just sort of geek out for a little while. And then we have an interview with someone. And the show is really just meant to be an opportunity to hear from directors what's on their minds and what's going on. And it's been very, very instructive. It's a pleasure to do that show.
PH: Yeah. And the beauty of podcasting, the beauty of audio is that, you know, your target listener is a very, very busy person. They probably have white papers stacked up on their desk that they need to sit down and read. But of course, words and video require 100 percent of your attention. But that same director also goes to the gym. They, you know, they walk the dog, they cook dinner and they can listen to your podcast while doing that, giving them that time efficiency that they crave so much.
DS: That's exactly right. And we hear from a lot of directors that that's what they do. They listen to the podcast when they're, you know, flying somewhere or they're out taking a walk or they're at the gym or on their peloton or whatever it is that they're doing. And they listen to the show every other week and seem to get great value from it. So we've just been delighted to do it. And what's nice is we also have, you know, an audience outside the U.S. It's not just a U.S. focussed audience. We've heard from directors in, you know, all across the EU, in Australia, in Southeast Asia, in Latin America. It's been great. It's been really good to do that show.
PH: Well, you've recently added one listener from Ireland. Anyway, since I came across it, I would be listening regularly now. Dottie, finally, if anybody would like to find out more about Diligent, where would you like them to go?
DS: Best place to go is Diligent.com. And if you'd like to learn more about the institute, just go to Diligent.com/institute. And if you want to learn more about the podcast, it's Diligent.com/podcast
PH: Dottie Schindlinger, executive director of the Diligent Institute and co-host, very importantly, co-host of the corporate director podcast for Diligent Corporation. Thank you so much for joining us on TELUS International Studios. It's been a real pleasure.
DS: Thank you, Patrick. It's been a pleasure.
PH: That's all from us here at TELUS International Studios for this episode, we will, of course, be back soon with another. In the meantime, please check out some of our previous episodes with some of the world's leading companies and thought leaders from the world of technology and customer experience. I hope you enjoy those and I hope you can join us next time here on TELUS International Studios.