Bringing the Board up to speed
“When Board members have a two year term, there is a risk that they might not be able to contribute early enough or in all respects” says Stephen Bennett, Strategy Director at the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM). “While Board members have a responsibility to contribute, so does the BIFM in enabling this to happen.”
In order to get their Board members up to speed and making a positive contribution as quickly as possible, BIFM provides an annual Board Induction/Refresher. For the last two years, PARN Director Andy Friedman has led these sessions, which reinforce to both new and existing members of the Board the various duties and competencies required of them.
“At first we thought one induction for new members would be sufficient, but soon realised this message would not reinforce itself, and that established Board members needed a yearly refresher,” says Bennett. “With an annual session, it is easier for Board members to keep their duties at the forefront of their mind, as opposed to being a one-off session that is then filed away and forgotten.”
BIFM views their annual Inductions/Refreshers as part of the “professionalisation” of the Institute itself, a way to ensure that the Board is as proficient and professional as possible, and provides real input to the strategic direction of the Institute. Stephen Bennett realises though that getting the Board members to think of themselves in this central role is not always easy.
“As some Board members are elected by Council, they face the challenge of keeping the interests of the entire organisation in mind and not approaching their role sectorally, nor as ‘representatives’,” says Bennett. “Within the Board, whether we are staff appointed as Executive Directors or volunteer Non-Executive Directors, it is good to be reminded that we all have a duty to be aware of everything that is going on, and that we can’t simply hope that someone else will deal with the issues.”
To further evaluate if their Board members are fully meeting their competency requirements, BIFM will be using PARN’s Board Review service to identify Board members’ strengths and areas for development. “Board members do not always realise that they must have these competencies to do their job properly,” says Bennett.
“It is good to have an outsider like PARN presenting good practice from the professional body sector. It gives a legitimacy that just wouldn’t happen if we were discussing it internally.”
Moving the conversation forward
In addition to Board Inductions/Refreshers, Andy has also facilitated three away days for BIFM’s Board members, tackling issues from building a mid-term strategy to addressing specific, tricky issues.
“Having Andy as a facilitator over an extended period of time has been useful as he’s been able to see BIFM mature. It has been a running conversation, and not just a one-off approach,” says Bennett. “We have moved on in our own capabilities now, and can ask more difficult questions of Andy.”
Bennett noted that bringing together a group of opinionated people without a facilitator can often result in one item (usually the first item on the agenda!) being hashed out for the entirety of the meeting. “Having a facilitator who is also an ‘expert’ enables mistakes to be avoided and gives a base of expertise on which to move the conversation forward,” says Bennett. “The facilitation role is subtle, but very valuable. Andy can use his authority to close a discussion or move it forward, and ensure that we are making the best use of the Board’s time.”
The idea of an “expert” facilitator is one which BIFM has arrived at through trial and error. “We have had other facilitators at previous meetings, but it simply didn’t work. They didn’t have the background on the issues and weren’t able to prompt the Board in the right direction,” states Bennett. “Facilitation at this level is difficult if you are unaware of professional body issues.”
“In real time, Andy can bring to bear past experiences of other professional bodies and put in questions which have a solid research background to push the conversation in a different direction.”
Developing a mid-term strategy
Up until January 2008, BIFM operated on a one year plan and budget, and were struggling with how they could become the kind of association they wanted to become when they were working in a relatively short timeframe. BIFM felt in danger of “being blown in different directions”, and so decided to focus on the bit between their long-term and short-term aspirations – a “mid-term strategy” – creating a rolling approach over a 3-5 year period.
Andy facilitated an initial session with BIFM’s Board and Members Council which looked at the various broad directions BIFM could take. “With Andy’s help, we were able to look at the overall typology of existing professional bodies and pitch where we wanted to be,” says Bennett.
The session generated a prioritised list of strategic directions, with learning and education coming out on top, followed by research/external relations and professional standards. To reach this outcome, Andy provided an overview of the professional body sector, and the various “types” within it, enabling BIFM to “answer important but difficult questions, such as: What sort of association are we? How would we characterise our future direction?”
BIFM’s overall mission of advancing the Facilities Management (FM) profession, is being realised through the mid-term strategy, keeping the organisation focused when 2009 threw up financial hurdles. “Having a MTS [mid-term strategy] put us in a better position to face the tough decisions we had to make in 2009,” Bennett remarks. “With a one year strategy as we had before, it would have been easy to go back into our shell, but it was easier to keep going with mid-term goals to reach.”
Bennett also noted that the mid-term strategy has changed the way the Board thinks of the Institute and themselves. One of the “Deadly Sins” for Board members that Andy discusses in Board Inductions is thinking sectorally; with a mid-term strategy, BIFM had “a mechanism for a more focused and directed Board,” states Bennett. “We were able to raise the Board’s horizons beyond the operational level, and find more realistic ways to deliver broad, long-term goals.”
“Andy was able to input his broad knowledge of the sector and put what we were thinking into a broader context.”
Engaging senior volunteers
In a presentation Andy gave to BIFM staff and volunteers on good governance, it was stated that organisations do not want Committees as “the apex of an administration iceberg”. BIFM realised immediately that this was exactly what they had created with their Committee structure.
The idea of a more considered approach to volunteers, what BIFM refers to as Senior Volunteer Engagement (SVE), was further emphasised through issues arising with Committee Chairs. Questions such as: “Should all Chairs have the same Terms of Reference? Do we actually need each of these Committees? Should we move on from the Committee set-up? Are we working in the right way?” were going unaddressed in BIFM’s current volunteer procedures.
Andy acted as an advisor for the SVE project, and also facilitated small group meetings. A direct output of this project was the dissolution of BIFM’s existing committees and the creation of two overarching committees – Audit and Governance. The SVE also gave the Board the power to create working groups (such as the mid-term strategy group), which “helped to forge stronger links between our volunteers and staff,” says Bennett. “Within these groups some of the most successful work has emerged.”
BIFM is also changing its recruitment process for some senior volunteer positions to a process that uses applications and interviews against criteria by a panel comprising staff, volunteer and external input. They felt that the best way to recruit two of their Committee Chairs was through their members as a whole; they had a large response and once the Chairs were appointed, they recruited fellow Committee members from the remaining candidate pool. “We have found that having Committees that are selected rather than elected has been better – they have better capabilities, and are higher profile people with specific expertise,” states Bennett.
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