A blog by Leading Governance managing director Joy Allen.
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If, like me, you’ve experienced your board asking for more information, less information, longer information, shorter information … all at the same time, this blog is for you!
I’ve felt an equal level of frustration as a charity trustee – happy with the quality of service delivery I can see, and wondering what I can’t see, and how to get a complete picture of performance, the good, the bad, and the ugly!
For the chief executive, board meetings should be something we look forward to – getting the opportunity to be recognised and thanked for the great work being done, and having a team of different brains to pick, for solutions to challenges and emerging risks. Alas, many of the chief executives I work with describe a scenario of success despite the board, rather than because of its input. So how do we help the board to add value to our work? Here are six tips to consider:
A clear strategic plan
Having an agreed vision of the future, and a clear plan for how we’re going to get there may seem like an obvious suggestion, and yet in almost every governance review I do, those interviewed list the strategic plan as an area that needs to improve. Keeping it ‘live’ rather than letting the document gather dust on the shelf is vital. Revisiting the priorities, and resetting them as appropriate, is essential when there is a major change, such as the impact of Covid-19. It would be unfair to expect the team to achieve all the goals in the original strategic plan if resources are reduced and demand for our services has increased.
A simple reporting format
My own preference is a balanced scorecard, which provides a succinct set of key performance indicators (20 maximum) across four areas of the organisation (perhaps customer, resource, learning, processes). Giving the board the same document at each of its meetings, with minor changes to reflect movement since the last meeting, enables our part-time board colleagues to easily draw the thread from what they’ve heard earlier in the year, up to the current situation. Further detail can be provided when performance is very different from the agreed targets, but a front-page with RAG (red, amber, green) reporting against the KPIs provides clarity.
I’m still amazed at how many chief executives tell me that they plan the board agenda on their own, or at best that they send a draft to the chair for ‘sign off’. It’s really important that the chair and chief executive think together about what needs to be on the agenda – not just for the next board meeting, but also for the next six months or a year if big decisions are on the horizon. I like to see a monthly 1-1 meeting in the schedule for the two leaders, to have a more structured conversation than they have in their more frequent interactions. Those meetings are so important that they should be included in the governance calendar.
A timebound agenda
While a degree of flexibility can be helpful, it’s important that everyone knows when they get their papers what the priorities are for the meeting. Having times down the left side of the agenda, in chunks, enables the person chairing the meeting to ‘conduct the orchestra’ in a way that keeps the focus on the topics that really matter, rather than allowing board members to drift into their favourite areas of interest.
Board team development
Another key date to include in the governance calendar is the board away day. This provides a key opportunity for less structured thinking time which, when facilitated appropriately, can really add value to the effectiveness of the board team. Within most teams, there are specialists, generalists, people who love detail and people who prefer to dream about the bigger picture. Sharing and reflecting on those differences in focus, and making them a positive force for improvement, can enable the chair to lead board development in a way that strengthens team effectiveness. Agreement can be reached on the information needs of the board in the future – the quantity, quality and format.
Fundamental to the continual learning and development processes in the boardroom is the annual review process – for the board as a whole, for individual Board members (including the chair), and for the chief executive. It provides an opportunity for individual and team reflection, and for honest and open feedback to support learning and improvement. The board’s need for information can be included as part of each of those conversations.
If Leading Governance can support you with any of the above, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. ACEVO members can join the Leading Governance website with 33% discount, and access all of its resources, at https://www.acevo.org.uk/support/good-governance/discounted-leading-governance-membership/
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