Blog posts

Could we make boards better? A response...

By Jodi Myers

It’s always worth hearing what Prue Skene has to say on governance matters, so I read her recent article in The Futures Issue of the Cultural Governance Alliance newsletter with great interest. She is right about the changing – and increasing - challenges for boards, one of which is to ensure they are genuinely diverse.

With regard to the possibility of payment to trustees, I say “hear, hear”, and suggest this issue is particularly important to examine with regard to chairs, whose time commitment is significant and whose cohort probably needs to diversify even more than trustees. In fact, the late Ken Bennett-Hunter, producer, manager, board member and chair, and I chewed over this subject a number of years ago, lamenting the sector’s general unwillingness to consider advocacy for payment of chairs.

However, Prue won’t be surprised to hear I don't agree about chief executives, executive and artistic directors sitting on arts boards. We all appreciate the need for clarity concerning the separate roles of governance and management, and I don't think that staff becoming board members would improve governance for a number of reasons.

It might encourage the rest of the board to excessively defer to the “experts” among their membership. I suppose that could happen now, but at least we can be clear it is the whole board that is responsible, not just some of them.

I worry that having executive and artistic directors on boards might deter artists and arts managers being attracted to sit on them – something I think is vital. Similarly I encourage executive and artistic directors to sit on the boards of other organisations, to utilise their skills and experience, and to gain appreciation of the governance role.

All board members should serve fixed terms, to encourage renewal and refreshment. I also believe senior staff should move on regularly, but presumably if they sat on boards ex officio, they would be the only trustees serving open-ended terms.

As Prue points out, it is the board’s duty to appoint the most senior staff – it is also its responsibility to manage and challenge them, which sometimes means having difficult conversations. Of course, senior staff should be engaged in board deliberations, but occasionally they may be asked to leave the room. This should be nothing to do with exclusion from debate on key decisions, but may be necessary to discuss a confidential matter, say a salary review or disciplinary issue, and also to encourage development of an effective board culture. It would be exceedingly difficult to invite one or two board members to leave the room.

I am not convinced by the argument that paid employees sit on boards in other sectors. In the commercial world board culture is largely driven by profit and shareholder concerns; the health and education sectors have their own ways of operating, which don't necessarily apply to the arts. Ours needs a board culture that best serves its civic responsibilities and its ambitions – and I don't see that staff sitting on the boards of the organisations that employ them contributing to that.

It would be good to hear the perspective of those arts organisations that have secured the approval of the Charity Commission to have senior employees on their governing bodies.

arts_councilFill 42BoardFill 1 CopyFill 1Fill 42Dropdown Copy 2FacebookFinanceInstagramLinkedInMenu ToggleSearcbui-chevron-nextui-chevron-prevArtboard 4RolesSearchStructuresStudyTwitterYouTube