Peter Cardy: Is your chair a coward? It's time to call in the headhunters

The sector veteran offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q: When I accepted my current job, I insisted that the board – none of whom could see the point of this – did regular reviews of my performance. There have now been five years in which I have received positive annual reviews, each of which has been written up after a conversation with the chair. This year she has avoided having the conversation at all and instead has sent me a written review – in critical terms.

A: As well as being bad practice, this is simply naked cowardice and your chair should be (and probably is, in private) ashamed of herself. A carefully planned major row at this point might not secure your future at the organisation, but it will certainly make you feel a whole lot better. My advice is to start talking to the headhunters. Now.

Q: I cannot get my chief executive to stick to the script. The media love her and she loves the exposure. We talk through the line to take; she agrees it and is word perfect. But as soon as a microphone or a camera appears she starts making up policy on the hoof. Our profile as a charity has shot up, but I get it in the neck from my boss, the head of comms, because he's getting grief from the directors: they assume I'm encouraging the chief to follow my private agenda. (I was previously with a "radical" organisation in the same field.)

A: You're in deep doo-doo. Ask your boss to brief the chief executive and act as her minder on some occasion soon: if he's reluctant to step up, perhaps you've got a dental appointment or a touch of food poisoning that day. But either your story stacks up or you're toast.

Q: I'm at my wits' end. After months of preparation I put a carefully considered proposal to my senior management team and board for a review of the charity's brand, which is seriously obsolete. It would be expensive and take a long time, but I thought I had everyone behind me. Now some trustees and the SMT are determined to do it in-house, and have found a web-based DIY guide.

A: The sector is littered with charities that tried DIY branding, saved money on amateur consultants and finished up with half-arsed rebadging. A brand is not a design or a logo – it's what other people think about you. You can't see it clearly without a dispassionate external critic.

If you're lucky, they'll realise their mistake – but if they do, resist the temptation to say "I told you so". If you're unlucky, you'll end up being called Scope, Vitalise or Relate.

Q: After 40 years we are still unincorporated. An attempt to set up a company limited by guarantee has run into opposition from members who believe we're trying to put the charity into the hands of faceless directors.

A: In a sense they're right, but directors don't have to be faceless and they should certainly make themselves accountable to the members. The opponents probably don't realise the personal risks to the trustees. Reading a few editions of Third Sector might help them understand that good intentions are no protection against litigation in the 21st century.

Q: One of my colleagues has such bad breath that no one can bear to be close to him. But he seems totally unaware of it and is the kind of person who likes to move into your space. None of us has had the courage to mention it.

A: Why are we all so cowardly about this? It's best if you or one of his peers broaches it – but first check that you don't have bad breath too. Then explain that it's a problem for his work group, for visitors and the reputation of the charity. If it's so pungent, it probably can't be fixed just by cleaning and flossing, so he needs to see a dentist to discover if there is an underlying health issue. If it's not fixed, it could eventually become a disciplinary problem.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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