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Learn to Love to Learn

Mandatory governance training. I can almost hear the groans and the chorus of “not again”. And yet just this week, we have heard of trustees being suspended from the Disabled Police Officers Association of Northern Ireland, a second chair stepping down from the child abuse enquiry, and the launch of a criminal investigation into accounting practices at Tesco. Clearly something is not working.

If you are a board member, you have a legal duty to exercise reasonable skill, care and diligence in discharging your duties. If you fail in this, the consequences can be serious, and include disqualification as a director, and severe financial penalties. Your organisation should have Director’s Liability Insurance, but the only real way to protect yourself is to do the job of being a board member well.

So how do you exercise care, skill and diligence? Care is about giving serious attention and consideration to doing something correctly. In a boardroom situation, this means that all board members must work to put the right values, vision, strategy and policies in place to guide the staff in their day to day operations. The board sets the tone for organisational culture and behaviours. Furthermore, the board is responsible for monitoring progress and compliance. This means they have to check if the organisation is meeting its objectives, satisfying the needs of its customers and other stakeholders, and hitting its financial targets.

Skill is about the ability to do something well. There are many different skills all board members need – leadership, communication, challenge, finances, stakeholder engagement, risk management and sound decision making, to name but a few. What surprises many directors is that they need ALL of these skills. It’s not enough to say that John knows about finance and Julie is great at policy development. Each and every board member has to be skilled in all areas.

Diligence is about consistently putting in effort. This means preparing thoroughly for board meetings, actually attending them, engaging in all debates and following up on any commitments given. Added to this is a need for board members to take responsibility for their own development. Your reputation and finances are on the line when you assume the role of board member. It therefore makes sense that a good board member will seek out ways to be effective, and constantly improve in their board role.

This being the case, it is staggering that so many board members resist training in boardroom development and effective governance. By not keeping up to date with current thinking and best practice, these board members leave themselves open to the risk of governance failure and public censure, as seen in other organisations. This is why I am appealing to board members to learn to love to learn, and embrace continuing personal development as a key pillar of being a successful and effective board member.