'Great boards are fundamental to our success'
Graham Maunders, managing director of CIH consultancy, shares his positive experiences as a housing association board member.
Why did you get involved in board work?
I joined my first board to help young, single, homeless people when I was 25. Subsequently, I’ve been a member of six other boards - including one as a statutory appointee and two as a chair, for both small and large organisations. For me, in every instance, it’s always been about making a positive difference to people’s lives.
How has the role of a board member evolved since you were in your twenties?
Today, board members have far more of a direct responsibility for the oversight of an organisation – not just strategic direction, but also ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of services. This makes it really important for boards to ensure that they have the right mix of skills and experience and that they take steps to ensure that they are performing well.
What do you think are the key challenges currently facing board members?
The economic climate and changes in government policy have led to a far more challenging operating environment that has fundamentally changed the sector. Going forward, all housing organisations need to continually strive for efficiency, effectiveness and value for money.
This means organisations must have a clear forward strategy that defines where the organisation is going and how it is going to get there. Board members need a good understanding of the risks involved, the various operating scenarios that could occur and the mitigations available.
How can board members develop expertise?
In my experience, board members are usually busy people who learn ‘on the job’. Finding time to attend a number of training courses is really difficult for most. Many enjoy conferences because of the wider learning and shared experience with board members from different organisations in one place. In response, and following on from my experience, I have developed a series of peer support learning events.
What’s different about the peer support events?
Peer support events enable small groups of board members from different organisations to get together and share experience and understanding. They cover a range of hot topics to ensure good use of time and tailored learning to suit the individuals attending. The facilitation of each event is also important to help build the skills and confidence of members.
What advice would you offer to anyone considering being a board member?
I think for experienced senior managers it really puts your skill and experience to great use – particularly as you help executive teams ‘see the wood for the trees’ and provide appropriate challenge and support. For those less experienced, it’s a great way to learn about how organisations work and the importance of good governance – particularly what you can achieve with a strong board and executive team working together.