There is a growing interest in Board effectiveness (across all sectors) and one of the most common questions we are asked is how an organisation can measure the performance of Trustees and the Board as a collective entity. One of the challenges is to find a meaningful benchmark to compare against; one that is both relevant and aspirational.
I’ve seen first hand how good Boards can have a huge impact on an organisation and one of the driving factors behind the development of our Board Development Service here at Peridot was my frustration with how few Boards there were providing really effective support to their organisations.
That said I recently came across an organisation that is as close to a national exemplar as I have ever seen. The structures and practices they deploy chime so well with what we talk about as a 21st Century Board, so if there is one organisation to take note of it is Norwood.
On the 11th December I was privileged to undertake a workshop and presentation at the Jewish Community Trustees Event on the topic of Board Performance. Norwood was introduced to me as a prospective case study partner, and having seen firsthand how they do things I felt compelled to write this blog.
Firstly, I was struck not by the fact that they have 14 places on the Board, but that they aim to always keep one space free to respond to change. This is agile thinking to be able to recruit somebody quickly with skills and experience that may be required to take advantage of opportunities ahead.
Trustees are appointed to fill specific roles according to an annual skills audit, which is as it should be, but the Norwood skills audit also incorporates Executive Directors to give a rounded view of the skills and experience available at the top of the organisation. These skills are additionally supplemented by Council, around 100 lay experts who can be drawn upon as required. This has created an impressive talent pool from which to draw on for advice, guidance and networks.
“The recruitment process is always skills led…”
There are four year tenures for Trustees and they can be re-appointed only once, so they have a maximum of 8 years on the Board. I agree that Trustees should not stay beyond 8 years in any organisation unless there are very unusual circumstances. This means that succession planning and recruitment for new Trustees must be effective and at Norwood they succession plan for vacancies 18 months in advance. The recruitment process is always skills led and recruitment sources include external advert, headhunting and previous pools of interested applicants.
In the recruitment process a candidate’s level of commitment is examined and challenged, which is in contrast to a prevailing attitude in the charity sector where organisations undersell the Trustee role and are often grateful for what people can give to them. A Trusteeship is something to be cherished, committed to and invested in, and a Trustee who gives a lot also gets a lot back. Charities need to be confident about demanding time and commitment from Trustees, and to hold Trustees to account for what they agree to. Norwood has managed to strike this balance.
The induction process at Norwood begins from acceptance, even if joining the Board formally is as long as a year away. Shadowing of a Trustee who is leaving is facilitated to ensure a smooth handover. New Trustees have a six month review in their first year to take stock of their performance and how they are being perceived.
One of the key themes to note is the closeness of the relationships between Trustees and Directors creating the feeling of one team at the top working together with real accountability. Directors are present at all Board meetings (6 per year), although the Board does meet once a year without the Directors. Each Trustee also has a Director ‘buddy’ for frequent meetings and close liaison. Ultimately Trustees are viewed by Directors as ‘critical friends’ and encourage challenge, which leads to a healthy leadership culture throughout Norwood.
“…absolute clarity is given to Trustees on their individual responsibilities, accountabilities and level of authority…”
Accountability is so important in developing modern Boards to be effective contributors. At Norwood absolute clarity is given to Trustees on their individual responsibilities, accountabilities and level of authority, and all Trustees have specific portfolios and are expected to be knowledgeable in their areas. A Trustee’s individual performance is assessed by formal appraisal annually by the Chair and with significant input from the CEO, which will identify training needs and objectives for the forthcoming year. Board performance overall is also discussed annually, taking a view on skills gaps, as well as individual and collective capacity of the Board to deliver strategic aims.
Finally, one of the most impressive elements of Norwood’s focus on Board performance, which ties in with succession planning and supporter engagement, is the strong focus on developing future generations of Trustees through leveraging engagement in the Young Norwood fundraising structure. Seeing all young people who engage with the organisation as potential future Trustees really is the way to go.
At Peridot Partners our Trustee Board effectiveness service benchmarks our client’s Board against three relevant organisations of your choice as well as comparing your practices to our unique criteria of what makes a successful modern (21st Century) Trustee Board. It is through this comparison in the right context that high levels of Board effectiveness can be unlocked, nevertheless by simply comparing your practices against an exemplar such as Norwood is a great place to start.
For more information on either Norwood or Peridot Partners and our Board effectiveness work please contact Grant Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org