Elizabeth Balgobin: Managing the challenges of a changing of the board

Boards should be dynamic and charities should use a departure as an opportunity to fill any knowledge gaps, says our columnist

Elizabeth Balgobin
Elizabeth Balgobin

Spring is a time for a good clean-out and renewal. The days get longer, the air feels fresher and all things seem possible. All right, I might be exaggerating a little; the fact that we have had snow and some very grey days recently might bring back the desire to hibernate rather than tackle something new.

The Voice4Change board is in a renewal phase. One of the founders, Jeremy Crook, left the board at the last meeting. His experience and sheer depth of knowledge was incredibly valuable and he will be missed. However, boards should be dynamic and losing someone has prompted us to recruit to our co-opted places outside the usual election cycle.

We are using this opportunity to recruit with specific skills and knowledge gaps in mind. We will have membership elections to the board in November and will recruit a chair that month to take over from me as my term of office comes to an end.

Renewal strategy

It makes sense to manage this process across the year rather than have a wholesale change in November. It's like deciding the living room needs a lick of paint and then finding you need new curtains and cushions too. It calls for a whole renewal strategy. Each recruitment phase requires us to do something a little different because we are seeking different types of people each time.

Of course, we want trustees to have an empathy with our mission and a passion for the work. We also want them to have the time and energy to take on the task of being a trustee. I'm not entirely sure how to ascertain this, but trustees in name only will not meet our needs.

Introducing a lot of new people also brings challenges. Should I arrange individual induction sessions or bring everyone together for one big blast and go through the standing orders? Should I have an ongoing list of induction topics on the agenda for evermore? I believe that having three recruitment rounds will provide the opportunity for new people to settle in a bit before the next lot arrives, but I'm concerned it might feel like a conveyor belt of change.

Knowledge legacy

Part of the job in hand will be to speak to existing board members to see who is planning to remain on the board and check when their terms of office are due to end. Another task will be to ensure that there is some handover and that a knowledge legacy is handed down.

To recruit for the co-opted places, we will publish a general advert and ask people to put the word out. We've discussed what we want and agreed who will be available to interview selected candidates. We will need to start getting people to think about the elected places as well soon, and keep reminding people of the opportunities right up to the AGM.

Recruitment of a new chair is proving more of a cause for conversation on the board: should I be involved in the recruitment process, or would that be too strange for prospective candidates? Our model is to recruit a chair from outside, but we have decided that a thorough reading of the constitution is required to check whether this is essential; perhaps the board can select a chair from its existing trustees in November.

Handing over

That just leaves the issues of knowledge legacy and handover. I have discussed this with other chairs, one of whom will be leaving his role at about the same time as me, and another who is just starting his chairing career. I've also talked with others who have no immediate plans to move on. I haven't spoken to any chairs who have had a formal handover meeting with the outgoing chair. When I took on the role, I had a talk with Voice4Change England's first chair. Minutes might provide a record of meetings, but we all know that the discussions that are likely to recur are often not those that are recorded.

I wonder if handing over the chair is any different from handing over any senior leadership role. In such cases, the outgoing party rarely hands over to the next person. When they do, the successor is often thinking "that was how you did it, but not how I will do it", and wondering what is not being disclosed. Maybe I will have to think about this issue more when the sun really begins to shine.

Elizabeth Balgobin is chair of Voice4Change England and a charity governance consultant

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