Peter Cardy: 'What do I do when my board has backed a risky concept?'

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. At the last board meeting, one of the directors described in some detail a new concept he is working on around sustainability. The trustees picked this up enthusiastically, even though it was still at the concept stage and had not been agreed with me as chief executive. I have now been directed by the board to fund this concept. I feel quite annoyed, but I wonder if I’m over-reacting?

A. I would be seriously pushed out of shape by this. It’s a gross example of "looping" round the agreed processes and structure. It was disingenuous of the director to include it in his report and be drawn into a discussion. I would also be cross with the trustees who colluded with him and made policy on the hoof. Tantrums are rarely justified, but you could be excused this time.

Q. Our board has been looking at job cuts in the light of falling income and our staff are understandably apprehensive. As chair, I was disconcerted at the last meeting that the chief executive put forward proposals for increasing his team, his justification being all the new regulatory demands. He says the charity would shed roles elsewhere. Any views?

A. Not a good look, is it? When posts are being cut elsewhere, it would be clumsy at best and provocative at worst to expand the senior executive team. A serious talking-to and some basic PR training is needed.

Q. I’ve been on this non-profit board for five years and hate the way things are going. Everything now boils down to money. The grants we give and receive are judged against performance indicators, not benefits to people. We have turned into a corporation, not a charity. What do you suggest?

A. You’re not alone in resenting creeping corporatism. But before you sweep out in a huff, pause and consider. Is the outcome for the beneficiaries worse than before? Does the use of corporate language make it any less caring for those people? Does the end of the comfortable consensus mean in fact that people’s needs are actually considered more dispassionately?

Q. In a previous column, you wrote something insensitive about gender politics post-Weinstein and created a ripple on Twitter. Do you regret that?

A. For the past 50 years I have championed the rights of women, and people of any sexual orientation and identity, to be treated as equals by society, employers and the law. For most of those years it was an unpopular cause, but I’m not about to change my mind. If I don’t keep up with the current metaphor and language in a more complex gender world, please remember that I’m quite old.

Q. I’ve just joined a large charity as chief executive, and everywhere I look the managers are writing strategies. What do you think about strategy?

A. It’s greatly overrated. What most of your people are writing are plans, not strategies at all. I have a simple view of a strategy: it’s a high-level view of where you want to be over the horizon, usually quite a long time ahead. Most organisations need only one, but if others are unavoidable they should be clearly subordinate to the main strategy. Plans are what get you to the horizon. Most of the strategies/plans your people are writing will in any case turn out to be worthless. Stop them wasting the charity’s time.

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