COVID week 6 w/b 20th April
My colleague Alice stood in last week and gave a fascinating summary of her week – the mix of the personal and the professional at the moment, the annoyance of issues, and the exciting work we’re doing. I am hopeful that more colleagues will do this in future.
The main focus of my week was our board meeting. We have a very supportive board at Renaisi. They are helpful at getting us to think about the bigger picture, and push us to get our thinking clear. In this session, we talked about the sorts of things that most boards are talking about at the moment – money and risk. We’ve got some plans, and non-executive directors pushed us to round those out and to think about decision points. It was a useful session.
It got me thinking about governance at this time more broadly. In talking to a lot of other chief executives (of a range of social organisations, from charities to B-Corps, to different community and social businesses, to trusts and foundations), I have been struck by a few things (all based on a completely unscientific sample of conversations):
- There’s always an information asymmetry between executive and non-executive/ trustees. That feels heightened at the moment, and there is a real potential for executive capture of agendas and work (not maliciously, just in the heat of ‘getting things done’).
- This is a situation where nobody has any experience to fall back on. That means that boards who try to take on the ‘sage/advisor’ role, feel a bit lost. Their advice is not based on experience any more!
- There is a very personal lack of focus for some. Everyone’s lives are up in the air, and they are focussing on their advisory/voluntary work a little less while they worry about kids, their work, or caring for parents.
- There is a rush to ‘do something’. We are six weeks into this. We know far more than we did six weeks ago. Now think about what we will know in six weeks from now about the situation. And all of that will be one quarter – a normal board cycle. Yes, cash and safety and the role of some organisations require an immediate and quick response, but not everything does. I’ve seen some organisations make huge decisions in the heat of this, that I wonder about.
- Linked to that, all this quick decision making means it’s a smaller group of people making or influencing decisions. What does this mean for the voices of those heard less? Some organisations find it hard at the best of times to listen to those voices (us included), so what will this do for the influence of underrepresented groups across our social organisations.
- Those boards that have a good level of trust between them and the executive seem to navigate through this. But it is revealing tensions in other relationships that can be quite significant.
If anybody has seen or read anything systematic about the impact of the current situation on governance, I’d love to see it.
Reporting on research
Our consultancy team are in the middle of finishing off a large number of reports from different pieces of research for a range of clients. That’s very normal for us for March and April.
It’s weird reading and quality assuring some of them, knowing how much the world has shifted. Are these things important any more? Do our findings still apply? Can we or should we try and make it more relevant to the current situation? These are the sorts of questions that all of us are asking.
It’s our job as consultants and support to the social sector to be as useful as possible – to pull knowledge together, to help people learn, reflect and see the bigger picture, and to trust our research. I am very proud of how my colleagues are responding to these challenges. It is the most important thing we can do for organisations that we’re supporting.
Reading, listening and watching
I watched The Current War, about the electrification of America, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison. I really wanted to like it, but just found it terrifically dull.
I’ve started reading The Atlantic and Tortoise a lot more recently. I find that I am struggling to engage with daily news, and so am flicking through sites less. I want to read something a little longer and a little different. I loved the idea of Tortoise when I subscribed to it a few months ago – slow news – but wasn’t fitting it into my life. Now I am.