Effective governance is achieved by taking a long term view – this can be quite challenging in the face of uncertainty about the future. The temptation can be to make choices based on limited perspectives rather than on the larger picture that would emerge if you seek more information and evidence.
There are four important steps you can take to achieve good governance:
- Ask the right questions. Be curious, inquisitive and hungry for all pieces of the puzzle.
- Strive to find the answers to those questions. Shift through what you are seeing and hearing. Is a clearer picture emerging? Your picture should harmonise with (a) your participation in the governance (b) The purpose, vision and mission of the organisation
- Act when the time is right – in the knowledge that you are acting on the best and most comprehensive information available. Do everything possible to make wise decisions.
- Stay alert to the environment in which you are operating. Situational awareness is key in a changing environment. This includes paying attention to emotions. Listening out for the emotional climate can help a governing board and the executive team get to the core of what can strengthen or weaken the organisation. Emotions are a very revealing indicator of the condition of the organisation.
If you take the these 4 steps you give yourselves a great chance to succeed and sustain a high level of performance. Even if some decisions do not work out you can gain from the wisdom gleaned from failure. Clarify what you need, have a clear view of what success will look like and seek the relevant guidance that sheds light on your situation. With an appropriate assessment, an understanding of underlying principles and practical application, anything is possible.
Governance is not just about regulation, policies and procedures: it has a human face too. Board agendas are often cramped, meaning that more personal, sometimes difficult and uncomfortable matters do not get discussed. Sometimes there is a sense of uneasy compromise. But creating an environment where trustees can discuss matters of real personal concern can add significantly to the effectiveness of an organisation.
Last year, a successful service-delivering charity appointed a new chair. The first thing she did was to initiate a board assessment, which recognised that the board needed to clarify its goals in relation to new key performance indicators for the organisation. The next few months uncovered some uncomfortable undercurrents within the board, with some members feeling there was an inner circle that made all the decisions. The chair encouraged the trustees to voice their concerns, particularly about the challenges thrown up by the rapid growth of the charity since taking on more public service contracts.
A few trustees would not play, and left. But the majority gradually became more engaged. They were given specific responsibilities as part of the plan to meet the new strategic agenda, and time was allocated to developing fresh ideas. Trustees and senior management began having the difficult conversations that two years before would have been unthinkable, and this candour led to better decision-making and an end to the previous blame culture and power struggles.
The board now has the confidence to focus on what really matters, to say what it means, to encourage different points of view and to work as a team.
“This has really changed the way we do business and the way we treat each other,” says the chair. “More importantly, it has enhanced our effectiveness as a board to lead this organisation.”
Surely there is a lesson in this for every charity.
After 18 months of sweat and late nights, I am pleased to say that Governing with Intent: An enquiry into trustee board effectiveness is now on the shelf. The following observations have interested me:
1. Boards that are effective tend to have effective Chairs who are able to facilitate difficult situations, resolve conflict and demonstrate leadership when the going gets tough. This goes far beyond the tradition role of chairing meetings.
2. Chief Executives play a vital role in strengthening the effectiveness of the board. They tend to lead governance renewal efforts, but our survey tells us they would rather the board was at the helm of board development.
3. Boards are more likely to evaluate the performance of the Chief Executive rather than reflect on their own performance. Our recommendation for improving Governance is that Board effectiveness and Chair effectiveness processes should step on and role model reflective practices for the rest of the organisation.
4. Boards tend to micro manage rather than macro govern. In today’s environment this has to change. Effective governance is about looking outwards as much as looking inward. The introspective gaze will not enable an organisation to maintain sustainability in this competitive and ever changing new normal.
5. Membership organisations need more governance resourcing. Usually board members come through a democratic process. To increase accountability board members need to be carrying out the right roles and the right time in the right organisation.
6. Effective organisations are paying attention to repairing and healing their relationships when things go wrong. We heard that trust and confidence is an absolute must for healthy governance. Conflict resolution is being seen as a vital tool in the governance toolkit.
To download your copy visit: http://www.on-board.org/governing-with-intent/
I am sometimes unclear about when to stop saying ‘happy new year’. Last year someone told me, at the end of January it is best to stop this seasonable compliment.
Two different Greek words exist for the English word new. Neos refers to something that has recently come into existence, such as a new year. It hadn’t existed before and is brand-new. Kainos speaks of something being renewed rather than brand-new. It contains the idea that there was something “before” that is now coming into the fullness of its true reality.
It is kainos that raises the concept of “new” to a different level, for example to describe or create the future. In each case, the idea of “new” is that it’s something that previously existed and is now being recreated and restored so that it can be all it was meant to be.
Living out this new future is possible by the goals, targets and purpose we set out before us. At the end of 2015, what is it that we would have liked to happen? What is it that we no longer wish for? It is encouraging that we can do new things, but we can also achieve significant improvements by refreshing or reviving what we already have or hold. For you what falls into this category?
Never Too Young
I have been really inspired by this young boy who led the service in our church. He was confident, committed and charismatic. What has helped? The vision of the pastor to get the young engaged as early as possible. Coaching and mentoring makes a difference and it can provide support at any age. More than anything it is a win-win all the way round.
It is a common misconception among Chairs that they must do everything themselves. However, the Chair who tries to do it all burns out fast – and wastes valuable opportunities to involve other trustees in board support work. Wise Chairs call on the skills and abilities of their board members, delegating tasks and using their time strategically such as partnering with the Chief Executive to shape the agenda for the Board meeting and liaising with Committee Chairs. By delegating – while monitoring effectively, the Chair can do more for the board. So how can a Chair delegate with confidence?
8 Top tips for Delegation
1. The Chair should get to know every trustee by name
2. The Chair should be clear about what is expected of each board member
3. She or he should be fair, objective, respectful and listen to their views
4. She or he should help the group stay focused on their task – this sometimes calls for fairness
5. The Chair should be tactful and diplomatic. If one trustee has held the floor for too long, the Chair could intervene to let others have a chance to speak.
6. The Chair should remind board members of their higher purpose and work towards balancing their passion for board service with compliance obligations and focusing on strategy.
7. Board members can be motivated if they know their contributions are valued. The Chair enhance the confidence of the Chief Executive, the board and committee members by acknowledging their efforts and relating these back to the organisational goals.
8. An effective Chair can work with fellow board members to establish good practices for recruiting, training and supporting Chairs in years to come. By putting these provisions in place the Chair will leave a lasting legacy that will benefit the organisation long after he or she has stepped down.