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.
Small is Beautiful
I was delighted to be a judge of the Charity Governance Awards 2016. I was even more pleased when I was told that I would be judging the small charities category for improving impact for charities that had no staff or a maximum of three staff.
This award is for organisations that can demonstrate how the board has contributed towards the increase of the charity’s impact in relation to its cause and mission. We were looking for examples of increasing impact, not just fundraising or increasing impact.
The winning charity was Robert Thompson Charities. The board led on a programme of modernisation that has improved the accessibility of the facilities for the charity’s community. The trustees were able to demonstrate the positive impact of these changes on the charity’s service users and also by awarding an external accreditation. The trustees’ commitment to consult and collect evidence from the community to inform the continued development of the charity was commendable.
Process without the right culture will fail
Headlining at Trustee Exchange, Peter Moore the only UK banking employee to speak out publicly about irregularities he witnessed from inside of a bank, stressed that the crisis at HBOS was caused because there was a completely inadequate separation of powers and balance of powers between the executive and all those accountable for overseeing their actions. He warned that an organisation can have the best processes in the world, but if there is unethical behaviour and an indisposition to challenge, they will fail.
Key governance lessons learned are the need for:
- A sound culture,
- The capability of control functions (audit, compliance, internal audit)
- Corroboration in oversight work
- Up to date company laws
Good governance is about sound compliance and structures, clear and consistent policies, processes and procedures and a healthy culture supported by appropriate behaviours. Often governance reviews look at fiduciary matters, at systems and do not seem to acknowledge that culture, values and behaviours underpin strong governance.
Without appropriate behaviour or conduct, governance will fail irrespective of structures that are fit for purpose or clear processes.
“Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world ” Unknown
I recently co authored a publication, Wired to Govern with 2 senior colleagues. It was birthed as our attempt to craft a strategic framework that incorporates social media and new technologies. Exploring opportunities, threats presented, the potential of governance as well as some legal and good governance guidance, Wired to Govern outlines best practice guidelines, templates and checklists. You can also see an analysis of how the Code of Good Governance is interpreted against digital responsibilities.
Download chapter 1 here. To get the full publication, click here. Let us know what you think!
In today’s fast moving environment we hardly have time to think or even breathe! Decisions can be made quickly with very little discussion, deliberation or debate. However decisions that have a big impact and long term consequences need more space for consideration, intentionality and purposefulness. Mindfulness demonstrates the importance, in fact the necessity of slowing down to speed up.
Nancy Kline’s work aptly called ‘Time to think’ provides a valuable framework to create a thinking environment. . I had the opportunity of spending three days with Nancy Kline practising the skills required for the thinking partnership and sharing experiences of approaches that work. Consider the meeting you would not want to miss it. People listen to each other without interrupting, attention is 100%, information is shared, diversity is honoured, people feel appreciated, encouraged and valued. There is a palpable sense of ease in a place that says to everyone, ‘you matter’. In the thinking environment, there is space for resolving differences should they arise. In this environment, everyone wins!