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Better board meetings – meeting preparation

This month we’re looking at effective board meetings and this week we’re focussing on meeting preparation. A bit of time invested in meeting preparation will pay off and provide for a better use of time for everyone involved. Try asking yourself:

What is this meeting for?

It may sound obvious, but the first step in having effective meetings is deciding if you really need one! It’s easy to fall in to the habit of having a monthly meeting, but make sure there are decisions to be taken at each meeting, or participants may see them as irrelevant.

Better board meetings

Love them or hate them, the vast majority of work done by boards is done in meetings. Knowing how to have effective and productive meetings is a key skill for any board team. This involves having the right content, in the form of a well thought out agenda, informative briefing papers, and challenging discussions regarding the decisions to be taken. In addition, it is vital that behaviours in the boardroom encourage everyone to give their opinion, be heard, and consider all other opinions.

Appraising the CEO

As the most senior officer in the organisation, it is important that the board ensures the performance of the chief executive officer (CEO) is reviewed on a regular basis in order to help them realise their full potential in their role. The review is also an opportunity for the CEO to discuss how their work helps achieve the organisation’s strategy, and identify what support they need.

Practice good governance or sing for your supper

Last month it was reported that the English National Opera (ENO) had been dropped from the Arts Council's national portfolio of organisations for 2015-18 and placed "under special funding arrangements".

According to the BBC, Arts Council England said the ENO must improve its governance and business model or face funding cuts. It said it would review the ENO's finances over the next two years and "set rigorous milestones" for progress. The move came following the January resignations of ENO's chairman and executive director.

Get the right board team by perfecting your person specifications

The first step to good governance is having the right people in the room. With the right people, any problem may be dealt with. A well thought out person specification can help you get the right people. A person specification outlines the skills, knowledge, behaviours and qualities needed for someone to be effective in a role. Person specifications are used along with a role description to recruit effective board members, particularly in competency-based recruitment systems.

The board recruitment process should include the following steps:

  • Define the priorities for the organisation
  • Clarify what the board needs to do to make these priorities happen
  • List the skills, experience, connections and so on needed in the boardroom
  • Match that against the current board members and identify gaps

The purpose of this blog is to help you consider what should be included in a person specification to ensure you get the right person for your board.

Lessons from the Lough

Last month the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland published its statutory inquiry report into Lough Neagh Rescue Limited. The report contains a very helpful ‘lessons for the charity sector’ section, and this blog looks at these lessons and offers some hints on how to avoid the pitfalls identified.

The first point made is that the trustees (the board) of the charity are those who have control of a charity, and that trustees have a number of responsibilities, including ensuring an open and accountable charity, which retains the trust and confidence of its stakeholders and complies with the Commission. This is an important point. It is not the staff, the CEO, the clients or any other stakeholder group who decides how the charity is run. This is the domain of the board, and the board must make decisions which are in the long-term interests of the charity, which consider staff, other stakeholders, the environment, and which protect the reputation of the organisation and are fair.

Critical Conversations at Board Level

Being a board member requires balance in many ways.  We have collective responsibility, so we need to work as an effective team.  We also have individual legal duties, so we need to recognise that responsibility and live up to it.  Sometimes the hardest part of board membership is when difficult conversations need to be had.  Shying away from those conversations isn’t an option.  Here are some tips to help make them happen:

  1. Be brave.  You know the conversation needs to happen, so make it happen.  The sooner you have it, the better for all involved.  The great book ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ gives practical guidance on this.

Embedding good governance in organisational culture - a journey, not a destination

When you hear the word ‘governance’, what do you think of? Value for money? Risk and compliance? Box ticking?

If any of these spring to mind, you’re not alone. However, what good governance is really about, is developing a culture which allows your organisation to thrive.

Well-governed organisations are a joy to work for, buy from, and supply to. That’s because well-governed organisations are those that have a clear vision, a positive culture, agreed targets and expectations, great customer relations and stakeholder involvement and robust policies and procedures.

In order to develop leading governance in your organisation, you need to get a few fundamentals right, and investing a bit of time in these will reap plentiful rewards.

Get the right people

Getting the right people on your board is the first step to good governance. The only way to know you’re getting the best person for the job is to follow proper recruitment processes. Good boards are moving away from the ‘old boys’ network’, and getting someone because they’re a ‘name’. Instead, they are focusing on using proper recruitment and selection processes to get skilled candidates who will invest in their board work.

The perils of groupthink in the boardroom

Did you ever think about speaking up in a board meeting and then decide not to because you didn’t want to be impolite or seem like a misfit?  If so, you may have been a victim of "Groupthink". Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people's common sense desire to present alternatives, critique a position, or express an unpopular opinion. The desire for board team cohesion and courtesy can drive out good decision-making and problem solving.  Board members who stay silent too often risk becoming frustrated and disillusioned,  resulting in a loss of enthusiasm and reduced creativity.

Celebrating and improving governance

The United Kingdom is regarded as a world-leader in good corporate governance. Sometimes we forget this, particularly when we are faced with press reports of a corporate scandal. However, the recent Financial Reporting Council (FRC) report on ‘Developments in Corporate Governance and Stewardship 2014’ highlights a generally strong corporate governance culture.

Progress is being made on the proportion of women directors in the FTSE 100, there are reported improvements in the quality of disclosures by Audit Committees, and it seems more companies are now retendering their external audit contracts.  With the recent updates to the UK Corporate Governance Code, there are new requirements for risk management and reporting, and remuneration, all designed to encourage boards to look further ahead and be more accountable.

We are delighted to see that corporate culture is now being highlighted by FRC as a key priority for boards.  It is now recognised that ‘Boards have responsibility for shaping the culture, both within the boardroom and across the organisation as a whole’.  The FRC report also highlights ‘the need for boards to think hard about assessing whether the culture practised within the company is in line with what they espouse’, and urges emphasis on consistency.  Included in the risk management guidance from FRC is reinforcement of the need for boards to ‘be frank about their capabilities to address the threats to the long-term success of the company, which includes threats arising from behaviour in the company’.