Jun 18

Why trustees matter

Posted: 26 June 2018

Neil-tWe all know that we should keep our C.V. up to date and one of the prouder moments in my career came when I was able to add to my own C.V. that I had become a trustee of Skills for Care – a nationwide organisation with a great reputation for the impact it was making in the world of social care.

I had always seen workforce development integral to my role as a Director of Care & Community Services at Jewish Care with the overall responsibility for service provision in my organisation. In social care, we don’t produce widgets, we don’t treat people – we deliver human encounters and the form of that encounter, is the relationship between the staff (and volunteers in my case) and the people for whom we support and care. As such, I have always struggled to understand how operations directors do not see workforce development as a big priority of theirs, in contrast to the HR professionals with whom we appear to have more success in engaging in our work.

The real challenge of being a trustee, is how you contain your passion for the cause, hopefully the main motivating factor for being involved, ensuring you fulfil your governance role rather than getting too involved in the day to day operations of the charity. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are charity trustees, school governors or on the management committees of housing associations and who can testify to the difficulties of managing that fine balancing act.

Fundamentally, our role is to ensure Skills for Care is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit, complying with its charity’s governing document and the law, that as trustees we are acting in its best interests, managing resources responsibly, with reasonable care and skill – and ensuring Skills for Care is accountable.

Primarily through board meetings and sitting on various committees that is what we try to do – debating the strategic direction of the charity with an underpinning focus on the organisation’s sustainability so that you/we can continue to have the positive impact on social care and beyond to the level of ambition we aspire. Taking advantage of the tremendous amount of detailed information in the reports that are provided to us, such as the intelligence reports, we draw out the key messages and information. This enables us as trustees to make as well informed decisions as possible and that is required of us.

We know, and the CEO constantly reassures us, that we can’t keep in touch with everything and it’s not our role to do so – but whether it’s the NMDS data, the detailed information produced by the finance team or the real intelligence gathered by the area teams, it all helps the decision making in a sector which is challenged by its diversity and disparate nature.

As importantly though is the role of the trustees to understand the people and the culture of the organisation, what motivates people, how do people work and most critically, what are their values. That’s a harder thing for us to do, as primarily, we really only have connections with the executive team and do not have too many opportunities to meet and get to know the rest of the organisation – that is why we relish and appreciate every conversation we have with colleagues, as it helps to give colour to the challenges you face, your day to day priorities and a sense of the personality of Skills for Care.

I know from working as an executive with charity trustees for the last fourteen years, that my role has been to help the trustees have a sense of what people in my organisation think, feel and say, that they have a sense of the dynamics of the organisation – it only assists in better decision making. While there is always the risk of being too involved as a trustee and not being able to curb our enthusiasm, on the other hand, trustees are motivated to help.

In a deliberate and strategic way, the chair, Moira Gibb, has been successful in recruiting trustees on the basis of the specific knowledge and skills required by and which they can offer to the board. They wish to contribute beyond the important work of governance and this we feel can bring real added value.

My view both from a trustee and an executive standpoint is that it should be regarded as free consultancy that you would otherwise may have to pay a lot of money for – clearly this is on the basis that the consultancy/ the advice is given in the right consultative manner – that trustees are considered and understand their role as critical and constructive friends. The real success is when you can describe the relationship between the two as a genuine partnership.

However, not only is necessary to recruit to the board people with the right skill set, but it is essential that trustees embody the values of the organisation and provide leadership in relation to their articulation and implementation. As a trustee, I see myself as a custodian of those values too, how they influence behaviours across the organisation and how they underpin our approach to the significant challenges that we face, ensuring that we continue to be ambitious for the sector while being prudent with public money.

“A trustee has a responsibility to guard the assets of others with a higher degree of care than he does his/her own” – John Ashcroft