Late September, 2017. I have been a Trustee on the Board of Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust for about a year now. Board meetings have been made infinitely more interesting and engaging by the involvement of Buglife staff and external visitors giving talks and presentations on various topics.
Pre-lunch Forensic Entomology has been particularly memorable – learning about how the various stages of insect development and appearance at the site of a death can help determine how long the subject has been deceased, coupled with plentiful photos of maggots and other wriggling and flying mini-beasts. My lunch stayed in the fridge as my stomach churned, but I was fascinated.
So in September, it was a real pleasure to be invited with the rest of the Board to join the Buglife team in Scotland. First stop was the Scottish Parliament building, for the Buglife Scotland 10th Anniversary celebration. With various guests and speakers present for the occasion, Angus MacDonald MSP enthused about his role as a Species Champion and his experience with a bug hoover (yes, they exist!).
The following morning, Board members were taken to visit one of the projects underway, the Slamannan bog restoration, at Fannyside Muir. Squelching through this 180 hectare project gave a real insight into how the staff and volunteers at Buglife spend their days, and the conditions they work in, whatever the weather.
Back at the office, we were given a few more presentations, highlighting more projects such as the 134-mile long John Muir Pollinator Way, Scotland’s Buzzing – engaging with schools and the Scottish curriculum, and much more. So when the official Board meeting started after this, we had seen and felt what it is like for staff and volunteers, and I personally felt I had a much greater understanding of funding requirements, the work staff do to engage with other stakeholders to secure financial support, and the immense scale and scope of some of the projects being delivered, sometimes with very limited resources.
You may be thinking, ‘well, the Board had a nice day out, so what?’ Well, the ‘so what’ is the greater understanding and context that then enables the Board, when reviewing strategic plans and financial projections, to engage and challenge with better insight into the everyday reality for the employees of the organisation. It is (relatively) easy to look at projections, charts and forecasts and make decisions or give guidance based purely on numbers. However, that does not always ensure the best outcomes. An effective Board understands the nature of the business they are engaging with, and the challenges the employees face, not just the numbers on the spreadsheet.
Here’s an example, related to employee Health & Safety. It’s quite normal for a responsible company to ensure that all employees have the required personal protective equipment for the environment they work in. The requirements are usually determined by each country’s own legal minimums. A responsible Board, however, will ask the question: “are we ensuring employees have the best equipment available?” The best equipment may be more expensive, may need to be provided from another country because that country’s legislation on health & safety is more developed and stringent, but the Board can decide that the extra cost is worth it to ensure all employees are as protected as possible.
How can you get your Board to review and recommend such important standards? Sitting in the same office every few months to review Board papers will not do that. Changing the location of meetings to be able to engage the Board with local teams and working environments will.
London Business School and McKinsey both add further insights into increasing Board effectiveness and engagement. Being a Board member is a real responsibility and that should never be forgotten, but it must go beyond the presented facts and figures to be truly effective and insightful.
As with invertebrate conservation, what impacts the seemingly small things can have far wider-reaching consequences.
For more information about the work Buglife does, visit www.buglife.org.uk.
To find out more about how to engage your Board and employees, contact me here or on +44 (0)788 7700 237.