Friday, 15 November 2013

7 Practical Solutions to Improve Trustee Skills - by Keith Mogford



Seven Practical Solutions to improve Trustee Skills

Keith Mogford, CEO of Skills - Third Sector, talks us through ways to help the development of trustees.

 
Being a good Trustee has never been more important.  The increasingly complex challenges of rising demand and falling public spending facing the voluntary and charity sector, and the pace of change to be managed, place an even greater premium on good governance than was always the case.  However, the plethora of reviews and commissions of enquiry into governance in the sector have to date have referenced some significant weaknesses in governance.

Most of the reports into governance to date have in my view paid too little attention to the importance of having the right skills at governance level, and so I welcome the call by Sam Younger for more extensive training for Trustees as a crucial element of raising the quality of governance.  Arguably however, effective recruitment is as important as training.  Commitment to the cause should not be sufficient to secure an appointment as a Trustee, and some qualities are difficult to develop through training alone.  Sound judgement, for example, I would regard as the most critical skill a Trustee can possess but is more likely to be a product of experience and self-reflection rather than training.

As Younger says there is not a shortage of good quality resources and support available to support Trustee development, including not only the guidance materials produced by the Charity Commission but also the National Occupational Standards for Trustees we have developed, and maintain, at Skills-Third Sector.  Yet as the Commission’s own survey shows, too few Boards invest in their own development, too few annually assess their effectiveness and the part that their own skills and capabilities might play in that effectiveness.  Board reviews alone are not the solution, indeed without clear purpose they can become self-serving, but investing time in a well considered annual review of a Board’s skills against the requirements of the charity’s strategy can pay dividends

Good governance cannot rely on sound processes, or the serendipity of Trustee recruitment alone.  It is vital to better ensure good governance by investing in securing, retaining and developing skills of Trustees. And it is not rocket science.  At its heart good governance from a skills perspective is about knowing the skills you as a Board need, and keeping these under frequent review; Identifying and making good use of the skills that already exist; Recruiting the skills you need but don’t possess; making Board business an environment which skilled (and often busy) people want to commit time to (retaining skills), and getting Trustee induction right.

It does not take a sometimes expensive governance review to get answers to most of these questions – there are plenty of low costs and accessible sources of support available, for example Training Needs Analysis templates such as that we offer at Skills-Third Sector. However I don’t want to fall into the trap of appearing to be yet another “commentator” criticising Trustee Boards in difficult times while not offering them solutions.  So here are some initial ideas for practical and accessible solutions for consideration:

       Plan and deliver Trustee induction – reference existing guidance on what your Trustees need to know, understand and be able to do
       Conduct annual Board self-assessment and appraisal of performance.  Be honest about the things that need improvement.  Be equally honest about whether they need new and different skills
       Conduct an annual Skills Audit.  Different approaches exist, with guidance. Start with your organisational strategy and challenges.
       Construct a focused Board Development Plan (collective and individual Trustees).  Commit time to this, even if it feels you can’t afford the time.
       Construct a role description for Trustees and use this explicitly in a properly formulated recruitment process.
       Have a budget line for governance development/training
       Be creative about finding low cost or no cost training and development solutions, for example are their opportunities for forming development collaborations with other charities?

There really is not excuse not to.  It’s an opportunity to exercise leadership and it should be regarded as a valuable investment not as a “cost”.  After all there’s a real cost to ill-informed decisions on your organisation and its users.

Keith Mogford
CEO of Skills – Third Sector


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