Boards should know what’s going on without being overly involved
Deciding on the best level of involvement (or power) trustees should have with their organisation is difficult. Board members are watchful eyes over a charity’s general health, but is this always the best way to operate?
We can all relate to not being told the entire truth, when in fact things aren’t as rosy as they appear. The scenario where the chief executive or senior management has presented something as comfortable when it is not isn’t novel. However, issues don’t come to light until we use our initiative and dig a little deeper, by talking to staff.
Some would argue this isn’t the role of the board. But senior managers are unlikely to report bad performances in their department because it reflects badly on them. Consequently, trustees may be making decisions based on poor or biased information.
Trustees, and particularly the chair, should have a strong working partnership with the chief executive and senior managers. This alliance must be built on honesty and trust. Trustees should feel empowered to call on other members of staff to report to the board without the fear of stepping on the toes of the chief executive, because inevitably, this makes our scrutiny more effective.
By focusing on operational issues beyond finance we are really fulfilling our role, being able to work to prevent failings in areas beyond budgeting.
In some organisations the board is too abstract. Some staff may have a) never heard of; b) never actually met; and/or c) haven’t the slightest idea of how to contact their board members. This seems like bad practice. Staff should feel able to bring issues to the board either through a designated trustee or through the chair.
This means the line of accountability is stronger. Whistle-blowing policies should empower staff (or staff councils) to approach the board if necessary. By doing this, we reduce the risk of issues developing to crisis point or to a stage where their impact is uncontrollable.
Strong board/staff relations don’t necessarily equate to an over-involved board. Rather, it strengthens the organisation’s accountability, giving staff the necessary channels to direct their concerns before it’s too late.
A chief executive shouldn’t feel concerned about staff having direct access to the board; they should feel proud that they have opened up the channels of governance throughout their organisation.
NB: This isn’t a reflection any organisation I represent. It is a series of thoughts that I have developed via blogs, articles and conversations.