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10 things my allotment has taught me about corporate governance

I love my allotment. You have a lot of time to think when you’re digging, weeding and watering. And it hit me that there are several parallels between keeping an allotment and governance. Here are my top 10.

  1. Preparation is everything

When I first got my allotment, it was just a soggy patch of muck, with lots of tree roots and no drainage. The first 9 months I had it was spent digging out roots, putting in drainage ditches, building veg beds and lugging, sifting and digging nutrient-filled soil for the plants to come.

To prepare a well-governed organisation there are some things you need to get right at the start. You must have a constitution document which clearly outlines what your organisation is set up to do, what powers the directors have to achieve the company objectives, and what things they can’t do. Getting this right at the start can save a myriad of problems later on.

Recruiting the right board members is another must. Time invested in defining exactly the sort of skills, experience, behaviours and attitudes you want round the board table will pay dividends when you work as a team.

  1. It’s seasonal

You don’t have to be an allotment holder or a gardener to know that growing things is a seasonal job. The same is true of governance. There is a rhythm to governance in the same way as there is a rhythm to growing. Each year you’ll have a quarter when you focus on producing the annual report and a quarter when you revise the organisational strategy. Another quarter will be spent reviewing the work of the board and individual board members and another planning for board development and renewal.

Pick up any book on how to grow fruit and veg, and you are very likely to find it sub-divided into things to concentrate on in spring, summer, autumn and winter, or even by month. This is a great tip for boards. Make sure your governance calendar has the ‘big jobs’ spread throughout the year. It makes things so much easier!

  1. It’s constant

I once made the mistake of leaving the allotment to fend for itself for a couple of months. How bad can it be, right? It was a disaster. I didn’t just have weeds, I had a leaky shed, torn poly-tunnel and shot vegetables. It took loads of work to get it all sorted.

The same applies to governance. A good board will be methodical about examining finances, monitoring outputs and checking sales and client satisfaction. That which gets measured, gets done. This means your board has to focus on the right things at the right times. If things start to slide, a good board will be firm about getting back on track.

  1. Protect tender plants

Some plants need a little more TLC than others to protect them from frost, insects, dry spells and so on. However, it’s well worth the effort if the result is the perfect juicy red strawberry.

Some board members need a little nurturing. Your wallflowers may need some encouragement from the chair in order to come out of themselves and contribute at meetings, but you can often get valuable insights from the quietest of people.

  1. Beware the invasive plant

Some plants are great, but can tend to take over if you’re not careful. I’m still getting potatoes in what is now a flower bed, and my mint is in a container on its own to stop it spreading everywhere.

Some board members can be overpowering and dominate meetings. The chair’s job is to let them contribute to, but not control discussions.

  1. Take care of your tools

It’s so much easier to get things done with clean, sharp tools. A little time spent on maintenance reaps rewards when it comes to doing to actual work. Boards need to guard their tools – the processes they use to ensure good governance. Keeping up to date with best governance practice is easy because Leading Governance does it for you. Visit the website regularly for practical tools to make governance easy.

  1. Seek help and advice from the right people

There’s a lot of help and advice, hints and tips on how to grow vegetables. However, I’m more confident of the advice of Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh when it comes to cultivation than I would be of Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey. They’re in a similar field, but they’re not specialists. The same is true of governance. Be sure to take advice from someone authoritative who knows what they’re doing. A legal specialist is a legal specialist, an HR specialist looks after HR matters and a governance specialist should be advising you on any governance issues you might have.

  1. Make use of your networks

The best thing about getting an allotment was the ready-made network it came with. I am surrounded by allotment holders who have been there, done that, and are always ready with some practical advice to get me on my way.

As the old saying goes, “it’s lonely at the top”. Be sure to network with your peers to find out how they cope with the inevitable challenges of being a board member. Find a few people you can trust to help you work through any issues you might have.

  1. Learn from mistakes

The first year I had my allotment, I completely underestimated how big some plants got. I put sun-loving plants in the shade. I didn’t tie up plants that needed support. The second year was a bit better. I’m still learning, and always will be, but I try not to make the same mistake twice.

The good news is that you don’t always have to make a mistake to learn from it. Be sure to keep an eye out for other governance problems in the press or through your networks. Unfortunately there are always plenty about, but if you keep learning what worked and what went horrendously wrong, you are much less likely to make the same mistake yourself.

  1. Enjoy

There’s nothing better than enjoying a meal made with my own fruit and veg. It gives a great sense of satisfaction. We know that well-governed organisations are the best to work for, buy from and supply to. Those are the fruits of your governance labour, and they’re well deserved!