Monday, 14 March 2011

NGO's and governance

There was recently an event sponsored by the UK government at which aspiring non-executive directors could meet organisations such as museums, galleries, artistic and cultural organisations that receive public money. It was an eye opener and a shocker. This was because of what they were looking for and what they were not looking for. Representatives of the organisations were very keen on recruiting, for example, scientific skills for the Natural History Museum or extolling the value they had obtained from a lawyer who had joined another public body. It quickly became clear that most of these organisations seek non-executive directors who will provide free professional services. What they are not looking for is people who will involve themselves in governance issues, who will challenge executives either by providing new ideas or testing those that are presented. They are not looking for people to contribute to new strategic thinking nor are they looking for the diversity in background and approach that leads to new ideas and challenges to the status quo.

In short they were not looking for the skills and approaches that should actually be the prime purposes of non-executive directors. Professional expertise you can buy in and is not so expensive in the context of these large organisations: a questioning, independent mind is, of course, less comfortable.

All these organisations may be lucky. They may hire excellent, innovative executives who will achieve great things and do not need holding to account and who do not need prodding to test new approaches. Or they may not; and the public purse will be wasted, organisations may become complacent and stuffy and may under-perform. Wilful misappropriation of public funds may occur and may go undicovered. My guess is that the latter is more likely than the former. What do you think?

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