This week has been National Trustees’ Week. I know one or two other things have apparently been going on this week. But on a long Friday night train journey home, I’ve been reflecting about some of the great trustees I’ve worked with and my different experiences with Boards and trustees.
Lots of people have written, and said, very interesting things about governance, Boards and trustees this week and I thought I’d share some of my insights to hopefully add value to the conversation:
Making the decision to become a Board member of another organisation (St Oswald’s Hospice in Newcastle) was invaluable for me. It helped me build my understanding of another sector and different types of environment. As a senior manager at the time, It also really helped me unlock and better understand the trustee experience. I started to think more strategically about the type of information that trustees might want and the questions they’d ask. I genuinely think it helped me to be more effective in reporting to, engaging with and relating to that Board and subsequent ones.
If you’re looking for your first senior manager or Chief Executive job, becoming a trustee is a smart move. One of the key qualities of senior managers, especially in smaller organisations, is the ability to have a breadth of experience and knowledge in areas like governance, finance, comms, HR, digital etc. This can be a real asset to an organisation and in lots of ways being an allrounder is desirable. Sometimes getting that experience can be hard though. Sitting on a Board, over a period of time, should give you access to strategic discussions and decisions across a broad range of specialisms. If this applies to you, now is the right time to act – just check out the #TrusteesWeek hashtag on LinkedIn.
As a senior leader, it’s important to re-tell the story to Board members. It can be quite frustrating when you take reports or proposals to the Board and you get asked the same questions that you were asked 6, 12 or 24 months ago. But it’s important to remember that Board members will sometimes only come into contact with the organisation a handful of times per year. It’s your job as a senior manager to remind them of the journey you’ve been on, the context you’re operating in and the decisions that have already been made. It might be repetitive for you, but trustees will often find it enormously helpful.
Most trustees want to feel loved outside your formal meeting cycle. The best relationships I’ve had with Board members are built when you involve them in between meetings. Give your ‘HR trustee’ a call as a sounding board when you have a challenging disciplinary issue to deal with. Meet your finance trustee for a coffee every couple of months to keep them updated on your management accounts. Not only is this a great way of ensuring your trustees feel connected to the organisation; it’s also a great way of getting good value and good support from your Board members.
Value and appreciate your trustees. Governance can be hard (and so it should be). Sometimes, especially as senior manager in democratic organisations, it can feel like you spend as long deciding what you’re going to do - as you do actually doing it. Every organisation needs to reflect on whether it spends the right amount of time on the right decisions but, within that, remember that Boards and trustees have a really crucial job to do. The onus is just as much on senior managers to reflect on how they support the Board, what culture they promote and what information they provide, as it is on trustees to reflect on their own performance and whether they’re doing enough to hold senior staff to account. From my experience, when there is a good mix of experience, and when Boards are well inducted, supported and informed they add huge amounts of value to organisations. And many of them are doing it in their own free time because they care about what you do; so we should thank them for that.
I hope this prompts some thought, particularly for people who are thinking about becoming trustees and senior staff that already work closely with Boards.
Finally, I’d like to take the opportunity during #TrusteesWeek to thank the many excellent Board members that I’ve worked with, and for, during my career.