What do you know of the g-word?
A little-known fact about me is that when I first became a trustee I didn’t know anything about governance. Two years later (and knowing what I do now), that thought makes me shudder. Much as I’m embarrassed to admit it, I doubt I’m alone.
The Charity Governance Code recognises that:
As trustees our role is all about governance. So, to do my position justice, I set off on a speedy learning journey to really understand the principles of good governance and how I could apply them in my contributions as a board member.
This coincided with the culmination of many months of hard work in reforming SIA’s Articles of Association (our governing framework), to better reflect the more modern charity we’d become.
With new Articles that reaffirmed our commitment to being a board comprised of 75% spinal cord injured (SCI) trustees, we renewed recruitment efforts to ensure our board make-up reflected the diversity of our SCI community and society, alongside skills and expertise that would complement existing strengths.
Fast forward a few more months and we were taking the natural next step – a robust board review facilitated by Jonathan Rennison of Yellowchair. This was designed to assess our effectiveness as a board, highlighting key strengths and areas for development, keeping good governance at its heart.
And here we are today, having spent the last 12 months listening, reflecting, analysing and putting into practice changes to improve how we work together as a board and senior leadership team (SLT), to further SIA’s impact and to safeguard and future-proof the charity.
In line with recommendations from this review, to set the foundations for more effective governance we prioritised five areas in 2022:
- Commitment to governance review and reform
- The role of the trustee
- Understanding and reviewing risk
- Formal training and development
- Dynamic and productive meetings
None of the progress we’ve made in these areas would have been possible without the commitment of the board, in collaboration with SLT, signing up to and working towards a common goal.
But we haven’t reached that goal yet – this is an ongoing process and one that requires ongoing focus.
So what have I learnt about governance reform over the course of this year? Here are my five take-aways:
Understanding the role of the trustee is everything.
As simple as it sounds, without this grounding knowledge you simply can’t perform the role effectively or know what you’re collectively driving towards. That’s not to say everyone needs in-depth knowledge of governance prior to becoming a trustee, but you must actively commit to learning and personal development – there are many free and paid-for resources and training opportunities that can help.
Don’t underestimate the importance of relationships.
I don’t believe the longer-lasting impact of COVID-19 on teams and workforces has yet been fully realised, but one truth is that we’ve all had to work harder at establishing relationships – whether virtual or in-person – to really understand peoples’ motivations and needs. It takes time and emotional investment, but especially during times of change, the strength of relationships and ‘togetherness’ will be markers for the progress that’s possible to make.
It takes an open mind and critical self-reflection.
None of us are perfect, we can only strive to do the best we can and to make decisions that are grounded in positive intent. Undergoing a board review can shed light on some uncomfortable truths but having the maturity and self-awareness to reflect dispassionately on findings will ultimately help to bring everyone together with clear direction and a common purpose. Regular appraisal, as a board as well as individually, offers protected and valuable time for ongoing reflection.
Celebrate the wins.
During those moments of reflection, don’t forget to share and acknowledge the positives, of which there will be many. This is true for board contributions in any guise, as well as the impact made by individuals and teams within the charity. A ‘thank you’ goes a long way and helps to shape a culture of appreciation and recognition throughout an organisation.
Keep your eyes peeled for mentors.
If (like me) you feel you have lots to learn in your desire to become as effective in governance as you possibly can be, then I firmly believe in the value of mentors – people who can bring clarity to situations or particular challenges, and who in turn will challenge you to help identify solutions and encourage you to develop further in your role. Mentors can be found from within or outside your board or organisation, and I’ve found the security of having people I could learn from and turn to for support or for a sounding board invaluable.
Finally, and it almost goes without saying, governance reform takes time and energy. But more than that, successful change requires an understanding of and commitment to a shared goal, alongside an appreciation of the role every person has to play in achieving it. After all, governance is nothing without the people putting it into practice.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the role of a trustee or becoming a trustee for SIA in the future, please email me at [email protected] for an informal chat.