Sir Stephen Bubb

Sir Stephen Bubb

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Chairs and chief executives rule OK ?

This morning I conducted my CEO's appraisal . That is in my role as Chair of Futurebuiklders. And in 2 weeks my Chair , John Low , will conduct my appraisal . That's in my role as CEO of acevo. So this is giving me an interesting viewpoint on the respective relationships!


The CEO - Chair relationship is core to success in any third sector body. The Chair and Chief executive must be able to get on , and where the relationship works well it drives the charity forward . Where it works badly it usually leads to a dysfunctional organisation.And where it is very bad , disaster looms.

In my experience in acevo, it is the fall out from bad relationships that is at the root of many sector problems. I have received a lot of emails and calls recently from members who have had , or are having trustee problems , perhaps not surprisingly given the Shaw Trust problem.

It is far too easy for Chairs to remove CEOs. The difficulty many members face is that although they may have cast iron cases at Tribunals , this is a difficult route for them to take . They have a strong identification with the mission of the charity so its hard to take steps that may damage their colleagues. They also want to move on , and that may be more difficult with the stigma of a tribunal , however outrageously the charity Chair has behaved.

At our acevo Chief Executive Summit in July we had a speaker from the private sector who has helped establish a mentoring scheme for Third Sector CEOs . The mentors are drawn from the commercial world. The scheme has been highly successful. But he told me that they had been reviewing the experience of their mentors and the conclusion they had drawn was that it is a dysfunctional Chair-CEO relationship that is the route of many of the problems and they needed to work on that . I am meeting him soon to discuss how we can develop a training module that looks specifically at that relationship , to bolster other work acevo does in governance. This meeting with him and the Institute of Philanthropy will also explore what further work we might do on building better relations.

I have had an interesting idea from one member recently who suggests that the Charity Commission insist that in Annual Reports trustees be obliged to report on where they have changed or terminated a CEO contract and the reasons for that , so that trustees be held to account for their actions. In local authorities there is a set procedure , supported by legislation where a CEO can secure an independent review of a council decision to remove him or her . This is in addition to any tribunal rights .It was aimed at ensuring councils did not act hastily in getting rid of a CEO , often simply because the Council political control had changed.

Could we implement a similar system in charities . A panel supported by the Charity Commission for example?

It has been interesting for me working as a CEO and now taking on a big third sector CEO chair role. i am only too aware that both I and my CEO need to set an example of good practise . And I have tried hard to remember the role of a Chair is as a non executive and to avoid telling my extraordinarily talented and effective CEO ,Jonathan Lewis , how he should do his job . But the demarcation lines can be blurred. Leadership is a shared task at the top . Both the Chair and the CEO must be closely involved in setting the strategy and the CEO will often want advice or support on staffing issues.

Preparing for this morning's appraisal I was reflecting on the various Chair jobs I have had . It began early! I was the Chair of Governors of lambeth's biggest Comprehensive , Stockwell Manor ( now the thriving Stockwell park high School) at the tender age of 28 . I suspect I was an overenthusiastic and somewhat incompetent Chair , though I did get on great with the Headmistress ! I then got onto the Council and chaired all sorts of committeess and organisations ; The Old people's homes , the children's homes committees and the Care and Secure Accommodation Committees . I was the first Chair of the famous Lambeth Board for Disability where we pioneered the adoption by the Council of the 3% quota and became the first local authority of any size to actually employ 3% disabled people in a very large workforce. Then Chair of Tooting Bec Hospital.Then my very first Charity Chair job when I took on that role for Lambeth Aids Action.And then I took on another charity Chair role at the City of Oxford Orchestra ( now that's a tale to tell ). I probably did OK even if unguided in these roles. Certainly we did lots of good strategic and innovative things.The community care programme we rolled out from Tooting Bec was a good one and where we worked with the third sector and communities , and stopped the rapacious managers at St Thomas' hospital from pocketing money from the sale of the hospital .

What I recall from all these varied Chair roles is the lack of training and development . The lack of guidance and support . No one saying that I needed to remember the distinction between executive and non executive functions. No advice on the best way to develop a positive relationship with the CEO. I think back to the council days when I even used to turn up at executive board meetings to add my pennyworth . Not the role you needed frankly , but then everyone used to do that .

has much changed ? Well actually no . We have advanced somewhat , especially with the sector's Code of Good Governance. But training for trustees and Board appraisal remain at low levels of take up . How many unpaid trustees say they wont do training because they are unpaid . frankly another good reason for charities to look at trustee payment.

I hope I am now a reformed( relatively speaking! ) character . Certainly in the Chair role at Futurebuilders I have been trying to ensure model behaviour And in this I am helped by an outstanding CEO , Jonathan Lewis. The appraisal session went superbly . Jonathan has had a stunning year as the ACF and FBE Chief Exec. He came from a very strong career in the commercial sector but has quickly adapted to the sometimes quirky but always interesting ways of the third sector. He has made a mark in the sector at large , with a no nonsense but productive relationship with clients and stakeholders . He has transformed Futurebuilders and deserves the sector's thanks for driving this forward.

And if John Low did a blog perhaps he would reflect on how well his CEO has done at acevo ( or not as the case may be! )when the time comes for my Chief Executive appraisal.

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