Who Wants to be a Board Member?

If I asked a room full of Primary Care members this question, I am not sure I would get run over in the stampede. This is odd considering the change the health sector is undergoing and the development support available – but having said this, management and board is an entirely different beast. The NHS Leadership Academy recognises Board Development as a key component of good governance and successful delivery of services within NHS organisations.

Primary care in the UK is moving to working at greater scale.  This means bigger organisations, merged practices, GP Federations as well as the development of Primary Care Networks. It also means the top of the organisation starts to look more like a Board than a management team, with clinicians and other practice staff taking on the role of board members.

Teams regularly tell us there is a huge difference between management team and board – and this is not just about the legal requirements of board membership. How can you transition from leadership to board role? How do you transition from single business to collaborative board thinking or indeed wear both hats? Here are a few handy tips…

Let’s start with the obvious. Effective board members bring huge added value.  Ineffective ones can and likely will contribute greatly to chaos and failure.  Being an effective board member needs skills, knowledge and attributes that many likely candidates (or, indeed, existing board members) may not have. Organisations we are working with are increasingly recognising skills such as

  • Working as a board team member
  • Independent thinking
  • HR and financial knowledge and insight
  • Business management skills
  • Clear understanding of responsibilities and whose interest you are working for

A successful board needs a healthy cultural environment to flourish with shared values, goals and vision. It can be a daunting role, especially in times of major change or challenge.  Recent corporate resignations such as those at Ted Baker seem to have a flavour of “sod this for a game of soldiers” about them.

Should this frighten off clinicians from being board members?  Absolutely not – a clinician’s listening, analytical and decision-making skills are a rather good fit to a Director’s role.  But it does mean that there will almost certainly be aspects of the personal “tool kit” that needs developing.  Becoming a board level officer without having some personal development and some development as a board is dangerous.  And you only find out how dangerous the hard way!

One frequent mistake many organisations continue to make is that the board is exclusively made up of people from that sector.  Having a different voice on the board that understands how organisations work, can look at the business from a different angle, can bring learning from other industries that can be applied successfully is a good thing. Let’s not be fearful and let’s be open to challenge. Which in itself is a skillset!

So, in conclusion, board development activity should be a key part of developing all primary care providing organisations – merged practices, PCNs and at scale businesses.  This should be a combination of reading and facilitated learning from experienced practitioners – the ones with both successes and scars!  From there on, all it needs is hard work, empathy, inquisitiveness, a moral compass and a sense of humour.  EASY!!!