How to Get Your Board 'On Board'
30 July 2014 at 2:20 am
Celia Hodson, CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Australia shares her tips on working with boards based on her extensive experience with social enterprise boards in the UK.
Your board members are responsible for making many of your organisation’s most important strategic and financial decisions, but is your Board performing in the way that is best for your enterprise?
- You should be prepared to shake up your Board. Depending on the legal structure you have adopted, you may be obliged to have at least one director, but all enterprises benefit from having several board members with a range of skills and personalities. It will definitely benefit you to have a breadth of expertise and opinion when important decisions are made.
- Most Social Enterprise board members join such organisations to fulfill their value-fuelled motivations but why not think about what you want from your board members and consider whether your existing board members are doing a great job. If there is friction, a reluctance to make difficult decisions or a failure to act, you should ring the changes. Weigh up whether your enterprise or venture will benefit from fresh faces with new skills and knowledge by collectively undertaking a capability review. Then actively target individuals that can fill any expertise void.
- Your Board make-up will benefit from having a balance of executive and non-executive directors. Executive directors are employees who have day-to-day involvement in the business; non-executive directors are people from outside the business who attend meetings and functions and offer advice to the Board and the Chief Executive or management team. They will be impartial and unaffected by office politics. You will need to ensure the person you appoint, as Chair understands your enterprise or venture, commands respect from other board members and listens to them.
- With regards to gender balance, I believe three is a tipping point so if you are truly committed to productive and balanced governance it is well worth keeping this front of mind when board rotation arises. All male or all female boards can offer a foreshortened outlook.
- When selecting new board members, consider firstly the issues that are facing your enterprise or venture. If you are struggling to raise funds, for example, look for someone with a strong financial track record or network. You can find new people from a variety of places — business groups and sector networks, your existing senior staff and your wider networks can all produce people with relevant experience, knowledge and an interest in your venture. You could also advertise in sector specific journals, newsletters and scour your professional networks via platforms such as LinkedIn.
- You are going to need to ensure your board members are aware of your key business objectives. They should agree on your strategic and business plans, monitor financial performance against the budget, and ensure the organisation (if you are constituted) is compliant with legislation. If the board members fail to meet these objectives, consider offering them training, fresh appointments or a shuffling of responsibilities- sometimes people just need a new focus.
- It makes good sense to make sure board members are briefed before board meetings and receive board papers in good time, so that they have a grasp of the issues before they are discussed. It might sound like I am stating the obvious but board papers should include the agenda, minutes of the previous meeting including any actions and management accounts. I also like to include a Chair’s briefing paper to ensure they have all the information required to lead any ensuing conversation.
- Consider making use of board members outside of the board meeting. They could be available to help with networking, crafting reports or evaluation, casting an eye over business and strategic plans and management accounts before they are presented to the full board. Before engaging Board members in operational activities it is worth spending time clearly articulating the parameters and boundaries of their engagement. This will prevent them from being drawn deeper into the organisation and the risk of undermining the chain of accountability.
- You will probably only need to carry out quarterly board meetings, but be prepared to hold more regular meetings in times of difficulty, shifts in the landscape or when you spot growth opportunities.
- Ensure your Board has a mixture of personalities and skills. You don’t really want all yes men or clones of yourself so take care in selecting those that will offer expertise and a measured challenge.
- Rely on your board to advise you and carry out actions. Use them as a brains trust for sounding out concepts and ideas.
- Make your asks of them clear and time bound.
- Set the dates for meetings and brief board members well in advance
- Be gracious. Their time is usually given freely so be mindful of their availability.
- Allow one board member to dominate meetings. Grandstanding should be positively discouraged.
- Neglect key issues, they are sure to come back at a later date.
- Select inappropriate board members. Although temping at Start-Up stage family and friends may not always be the best choice in the longer term.
- Forget to have some fun, board members with a great sense of humor are hugely valuable and offer an alternative emotion in times of adversity.
About the Author: Celia Hodson is the Chief Executive Officer of the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Australia and has a wealth of experience in supporting and advocating for social entrepreneurs, as a business person, entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s most successful social enterprise schools, The Eastern Enterprise Hub.
Hodson’s previous UK based roles included Deputy Chief Executive at Social Enterprise UK, Chief Executive Officer at Cambridge Co-operative Development Agency and Chief Executive of regional development agency Choose Suffolk. She has also held numerous board positions with UK based non-profits and social enterprises.