WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to:

I am a newly appointed chief executive. The former CEO has joined the trustee board. He uses board meetings to make unhelpful suggestions on operational matters. What can I do?

What a bad example that former chief executive is setting. Most of the complaints I get from members of Acevo focus on trustees who can't understand the difference between the executive and non-executive roles.

We have to recognise there are particular problems in our sector about governance structures. With a non-executive board consisting entirely of unpaid volunteer trustees, it is not surprising that the line between strategic and operational matters is often blurred.

One day I shall write a book about the many bizarre and appalling examples of bad trustee behaviour. But before the letters pour in from outraged trustees, I should also add there are many brilliant examples of good practice too.

It is one of the reasons that led to Acevo publishing a guide to the relationship between a chief executive and trustees, Leading the Organisation.

Has that guide been used in your organisation? Perhaps your former chief executive knows of it? If not, perhaps you could send him a complimentary copy. In the guide we publish a model code of conduct for trustees. You should consider asking your board to adopt this. Is this a wider problem where he is not the only one delving into operational issues?

You do need to have your own conversation with this person. It is no good leaving this to fester. Lunch beckons! You need to use an informal occasion to outline your concerns. But you will also need to listen to his issues. He could be a useful source of historical information - the stories and gossip about people that might be of value in tackling staffing matters. You are now in charge - you must do it your way. But drawing on his experience (outside of the board meeting) may be helpful, although you will need to remind him that it's your decision now!

You will also need to talk this through with your chair. I would hope that they would have noticed the problem and be concerned to see it resolved.

So let the chair know that you are going to do lunch and report back.

Then, perhaps, the chair might have a session with him too.

Governance is more of a problem for our sector than I think is realised.

The sooner we move to more diverse forms of governing structures, with a code of good governance, the better. I shall have to sign you up to Acevo's governance campaign!

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