Great governance - what are you waiting for?

As the old year fades into memory, the Third Sector as a whole realises that the issue of less than great governance is a price that no organisation should be prepared to pay.  In fact, as last year’s very public examples demonstrate, having less than optimum arrangements does organisations no good at all.  It can make them stagnant and internalised and can impede the important work they want and need to carry out on behalf of members, those they represent or those they exist to help.  More than a few organisations, or their controlling boards, suspect that things could be better but haven’t tackled the problem yet.  So what should they be doing right now?

The answer is to agree that this is the year they get it right.  In most cases, all that is required is a review and, potentially, a small refresh or adjustment.  Governance reviews should ideally happen every couple of years but sadly many organisations will admit to a dozen or so years having passed since the last one.  Granted, in some cases, something a little more root and branch will be the conclusion but it’s still no reason to put off starting to look at how things are going.

Unfortunately, results aren’t achieved by wishful thinking.  It takes a serious ‘stand-up-and-be-counted’ moment for a Chief Executive or a board member to insist that the work must start today.  It is so easy to put off in the general busy and worry of day-to-day business.  It is too easy to adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s attitude of ‘I’ll think about it tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow is another day’.  We had plenty of examples, both minor and horrendous, of the results of that attitude last year.  It is worth remembering that members of governing bodies must accept overall responsibility for proper administration of their organisation as well as having a responsibility to act  in the best interests of the organisation at all times.

Starting something that has the potential to create significant change can be very intimidating.  But you might find that it’s not really that bad at all. We also know that having only internal voices in the conversation can limit your thinking.  So just pick up the phone and talk to someone external and completely unbiased who will be able to help you make a start.  

"Susie’s knowledge, her perception and ability to translate into a new Corporate Governance environment which should stand for the next ten years, was exemplary. The Board and Management of FSDF will continue to seek Susie’s advice from time to time on specific issues, but believe that given the quality of work already completed, that will be on rare occasions.”                                                  - Chris Sturman FCILT, FRSA, Chief Executive, Food Storage & Distribution Federation

Can your Trustees read the Signs & Portents?

 While I was waiting for last night’s wonderful lunar eclipse to show us its spectacular ‘blood moon’, I was reading about the religious leaders prophesying that this event, the last in a tetrad of similar events, would be the herald of the endtime.  Cheerful stuff at 3am!  

By utilising a combination of documentary evidence, quotes and a sprinkling of rather odd beliefs, they are happy to predict the coming of all manner of horrors for us all.  But here’s the interesting bit – each predicts a timetable which supports their own particular theory and all would like to take credit for being the first to make the prediction of doom.  Nor do they seem to mind that not many others are buying into their forecasts.

So what has all this got to do with Trustee Boards and the non-profits? 

The comparison with some Boards with a history of under-performance seems rather marked. The ability to look at what is happening within their organisations is fairly skewed by either outmoded beliefs or lack of skills and, sadly, the example of good practice in other organisations is largely ignored because they've always done it this way and it must be right – right? Definitely not.

All organisations face a landscape of continuous change and must regularly look outside to ensure they can respond effectively to the coming needs of members or those who receive their services.  It’s when the blinkers go up that trouble can find a way in.  If outside advice is not sought or welcomed, however sensible or appropriate, then the drawbridge has been drawn up and you don’t need to be a visionary to imagine what’s coming next.

Avoiding the doomsday scenario is so simple.  Regular and searching reviews of all aspects of the work and structure of the Board and its relationship with the organisation it serves will provide future-proofing and security. No mysticism needed.

Will it fly? Take a risk and grab those opportunities

I discovered something recently that I’d like to share.  It starts with me admitting that I like poetry.  Although I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea I read it sporadically, I even write a little.  I’m not sure mine is very good but it pleases me.  One day I may even come clean and show it to someone.

In most areas of our lives we can be creatures of habit, liking the comfort of familiarity.  Hands up, I do too.  In my poetry choices I tend to turn to poems I know well and perhaps have loved for a long time, because they evoke an expected reaction, a response that I recognise and find pleasing or comforting depending on what I need that day.

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Reach out – I’ll be there

The title of this post is an old song title from the Four Tops.  It’s amazing how old song lyrics can get you thinking.  The song is all about support systems and asking for help when you need it and, hearing the song the other day, that thought collided with some statistics I heard a few days ago. You can’t possibly have missed the fact that it is only a few weeks to the holiday season and you are probably starting to think about what you might be giving to those around you as gifts – well you will be soon if you haven’t started just yet! There is one person, however, that most of us don’t include on our gift list and that is ourselves.

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Professionalism attributes - Somewhere over the rainbow

We are all very familiar with the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz – on our screens again over the holidays - and especially the most enduring song from the film ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, sung by Judy Garland.  In the years since the film first appeared it has become accepted as the ‘standard’ version, now full of memories and association for many people.  Although lots of other singers have since offered their own versions, no-one ever really made a dent in Judy Garland’s ‘ownership’ of the song.

Then, in the late ‘90s, a new version appeared and did something really surprising.   It was a fabulous new version, beautiful in its own right and utterly different from the original.

TRULY   MEMORABLE

I can clearly remember the first time I heard it. I was listening to my car radio and, even though I arrived at my destination while it was playing, I had to stay in my seat until the end of the song because I wanted to hear all of it.  Then I waited for the name of the singer because I knew that I would want to hear it again - Eva Cassidy.  Next step was to go and buy it for myself and, unsurprisingly, I liked everything else that the singer had to offer and am still listening to it all these years later.

Why am I telling you this?  Hearing the song again the other day triggered the memory of my feelings of surprise and delight at discovering this new way of looking at something I was so familiar with.  The content was the same but the delivery was new and unexpected.  I also realised that I did not have to decide whether it was an improvement on the older version but that I had quickly accepted that the two versions could exist side by side.

DIFFICULT  BUT  NOT  IMPOSSIBLE

How had the singer achieved this?  She had found a new and intensely personal way of looking at something familiar and had made me, the listener, appreciate the content afresh.  She triggered an extraordinary reaction in me and a great many other people who also heard the song that day.

I have huge admiration for the singer, having the courage to take something so familiar and do something truly different with it.  A huge gamble that could have backfired badly but she made it uniquely hers with no detriment to what went before - just completely different.

POSSIBILITIES

At work and in our everyday lives we all allow ourselves to continue doing what we have always done before without questioning it – it’s easy that way.  Have you ever wondered whether easy is not always best?  Now would be a good time to apply a fresh pair of eyes to what you have been doing for a while, giving it a good shake and seeing if perhaps there might be another way – perhaps better, definitely different, maybe leading you to other changes.  Change for its own sake is not always the best route but it can occasionally lead to improvement, even just by relieving the tedium of unending repetition.

Use the key attributes of professionalism of integrity and the search for excellence.    Have the courage not just to do the right thing for you but also look beyond the ordinary and the mundane, beyond entrenched attitudes to find something better, something newer and, by upsetting the status quo, perhaps produce something for the benefit of everyone.  Give yourself permission to dream and you might just find your rainbow!

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing we would literally astound ourselves” – Thomas Edison

Applause, choices and cautionary tales

In earlier blog posts I have talked about the choices that organisations must make at the moment, examining their current structures to provide the best possible support to members.  Current discussions about how professional associations and membership organisations can survive in the current climate mean that there has been a slow realisation of the danger presented by several key factors.  The impact of current economic realities on members’ wallets;  the impact of new social media providing alternate communication routes which can bypass formal organisations; the negative impact of very public failures of professional standards; changing demographics; all of these are leaving some organisations exposed to falling membership numbers.


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Fairer access - Time to bite the bullet

Congratulations to Alan Milburn on opening up a laudable cross-sectoral discussion about what our childrens’ futures could be.His newly published report (Unleashing Aspiration - The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions) provides some important statistics about current and historical routes into the professions and offers a large number of conclusions and recommendations.

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