On board, in tune and on track

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When a board works well, it should be like the wheels on your car; a fundamental, but largely invisible component of the whole. However, if they’re unbalanced, punctured or worn down, left unchecked the resultant shudders, frictions and blowouts will cause deterioration to every part of the vehicle.

In short, take your board for granted and, eventually, you’ll pay for it.

I was delighted to speak at last week’s Women on Boards (WOB) event. WOB provide information, encouragement and connections to help women get to the top within their own company or take on a role as a Non-Executive Director (NED), trustee or governor. I’d been to a WOB event at PWC, Edinburgh and had left feeling inspired by the speakers and the talent in the room. And in true testament to its ethos I left with a useful board review template, shared by a kind colleague in attendance. 

I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little daunted by the speaker invitation, especially having experienced the quality of speakers and delegates at their events. Did they mean to ask me? Perhaps there’s another Kirsty Mackenzie much better qualified who was expected? A quick google didn’t reassure me – was it the photographer or the engineer who was eagerly refreshing their inbox, waiting for the invite they’d been promised?

However, thanks to a recent blog on Imposter Syndrome by my colleague, Fiona Gardner, I shook off these unhelpful thoughts and instead used that energy to focus on what on earth I was going to share that could add value to the event.

I have experience of boards. Whether it be creating, developing and reviewing my own board, sitting as a trustee and chair on other boards or supporting the recruitment of others to board positions, I’ve got an unique 360 degree perspective on what works.

In my experience – and I’m sure in yours - there’s a lot of dysfunctional boards out there (obviously not the one I built from scratch, but I would say that!). I realise (but usually forget) that it’s often in times of change or imperfection that we experience our greatest learns. And so, in the spirit of WOB, I’d like to share with you my experiences of what I’ve learned, in the hope it helps you avoid the potholes and catch all the green lights on your own board journey.

Shout about it!

If you want a board role tell people about it. People aren’t mind readers. The Non-Exec roles I’ve been involved in have all been through referral, from people who knew I was considering this type of opportunity.

Recently, I helped an organisation to fill a board position, I got a call from a contact who I know very well who had heard I’d successfully recruited the role. They were disappointed I hadn’t informed them of the opportunity; however, I had no idea they were looking for a NED role. The last few times we’d spoken they’d just talked about how busy they were!

Don’t stand still

Regularly review and agree what the board is there to do. Yes, there’s the legal requirements but over and above these, what are your expectations of each other?

I had no idea one of my board roles would largely involve me being 'translator’. I didn’t feel I was adding much value, however recently I asked for feedback and was told this was a skill set the rest of the board were finding invaluable!

Don’t settle

A robust recruitment and review process is essential. I’ve learnt the hard way. I’ve seen Trustees being hired because “they’re the only volunteers available” and parting ways with an underperforming board member is extremely difficult if there is no review process.

It’s never too early or too late to introduce a robust recruitment process and mechanism for review. It also allows for constructive and positive feedback which people may appreciate.

Avoid stagnation

Board development is an ongoing process and so important, but I don’t hear many people talk about it. I’ve tried to work on this in my board roles by getting educators in; having away days for reflection; and had social events to bond as a board. I’ve not completely cracked this though. The beginning of the process is vital too – figuring out how to effectively induct new board members will pay dividends if you can get it right.

Whether we recognise it or not we all have something valuable we can share which can benefit others. Likewise, I believe we can always learn something from someone else when we’re truly listening. We’re all busy and self-reflection is something we don’t do enough, yet it’s vital to self-development and resilience building.

I’ve shared with you and I’m ready to listen! Please do reflect and share in the comments below…