Governance, the role and work of Boards, is the quality of decision making and the implementation of those decisions at the top and has become central to the success of organisations.
Governance is creative and carried out well has the ability to help organisations prosper… a thing of beauty. Like any work of creativity and beauty it needs to be framed. An artist frames their painting, a songwriter frames their song with a beginning and an end, even a jazz musician frames their improvisation within a musical framework. Beautiful creations need to be framed.
How can a Board frame their Governance work?
Here are a few thoughts…
Frame the mission and vision of your organisation: Understand, through knowledge and analysis, your organisation’s mission and vision. Don’t be shy about saying “no” to many good ideas. Have the strength to say “yes” to the few right ideas. Frame the right ideas. Ask questions like “How does this activity fit with our mission?” “Is this what the organisation is about?” Avoid mission creep (the gradual shift in objectives over time often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment or total change in direction). Think of the Board’s wisdom as a rudder guiding the organisation in the right direction keeping it within the organisations agreed frame.
Frame the values and behaviours of your organisation: Through consultation identify and document the organisation’s values and associated behaviours. Encourage the whole team to live out the organisation’s values and behaviours, including the Board! Carry out an annual review of the Board to ensure you and your all your people remain within the frame.
Frame who is on your Board: Many charities and not for profits aim for a “Noah’s Ark” board—for example, two accountants, two lawyers, two wealthy donors and two marketing professionals. Instead, when recruiting, approach potential board members with the big issues and decisions the organisation will be dealing with in the next few years. This will help Board members see their potential role as seeing and creating the full picture, more than just oversight and advisory.
Frame the work of the Board: The work of a “Noah’s Ark” board is often limited to pro bono advice or even cheap labour! Discuss, agree and frame the scope of the work of your Board. Of course this needs to include fiduciary and strategic roles, and the appointment and accountability of your CEO or full time director. But consider other questions: "What cues does the board focus on?” What your board sees will depend on their frame. "Who decides what the organisation will pay attention to? Who tends to frame the problems? Who decides what a given problem or opportunity means for the organisation? Who has the most influence over what gets onto the organisation’s agenda or list of priorities?
Frame the problems: The way a problem is framed in itself includes some potential forms of problem solving and can often excludes the board. As issues are framed and converted into strategies and plans, the opportunity for framing problem solving can bypass the board. Boards tend to get most involved after plans have been implemented, through familiar practices such as fiscal oversight and strategy approval. Learn to involve the board at an early stage.
The next step
If you have any questions relating to this insight, please contact Michael Fitch, or your usual UHY adviser.