Kildare opinion column: If you’re ever asked to join the board of something, read this

What exactly is involved when you sign up as a 'member of the board'

Conor McHugh


Conor McHugh


Kildare opinion column: If you’re ever asked to join the board of something, read this

File picture

I am precluded for legal reasons from commenting on all of the many examples I can think of where boards of organisations have been ineffective, and where various shenanigans have ensued.

I am precluded because there are criminal investigations ongoing or pending, and it wouldn’t do anyone any favours if I was to refer to any particular high profile situations.

But the reference by the comptroller and auditor general in his report on the 2015 accounts of the KWETB that the board of that organisation was “unable to challenge the executive in an effective way” provides us with what these new-age management types call “a teachable moment”.

The following is a commentary on boards in general, and organisations in general — not that particular one.

If you’re ever asked to join the board of any organisation, be it a large organisation or charity or even your local sports club, you should walk in with your eyes wide open to the responsibility it brings.

The board may not necessarily do the day-to-day running of the organisation.

Its job will likely be to oversee that it is all done and done properly.

That means that if it’s not done properly, it’s your fault. You carry the can.

Where the organisation has employees, it means that you could, in theory, be responsible for the deeds of others.

The board is the body that establishes the vision and mission of the organisation, and develops and oversees the strategy for the implementation of the vision and mission.

And here’s the important bit — the board also makes sure that while its strategy is being implemented, that it is implemented correctly.

Or, in lay(wo)man’s terms, it makes sure that it is aware of and approves every single penny that either comes into or leaves the organisation, and where it resides in between — because more often than not, that’s where the shenanigans can happen!

In cases, for instance, where the organisation benefits from large amounts of taxpayers money, you as a board member are meant to be the safety net that ensures the taxpayer is getting value for money and that it is spent correctly.

If you feel like you’re not getting the information you need to enable you to do that, you should resign and state in your letter of resignation to the board why you are resigning.

That’s how you protect yourself from being blamed for the sins of others.

To better understand the consequences of failure to do that, tune into the regular hearings of the Public Accounts Committee and ask yourself if you’d like to be sitting there, facing a grilling from Catherine Murphy and her colleagues.

Half an hour of that should put manners on most.

The really good news is that if a board functions properly, taking its responsibilities seriously and is diligent about getting its processes right, then it’s much harder for anything to go wrong.

It is possible, if all relevant policies and procedures are in place and operating appropriately, with regular reviews, that you can engineer out many of the cracks where dodgy stuff can get through.

For instance, it should be possible to draw a connecting line between the organisation’s strategy and both everything that is done by the organisation and how it is done.

If you’re on a board, there are a number of key elements of housekeeping that are necessary to avoid disaster: Meetings should be held regularly, minutes should be taken of them and distributed promptly afterwards and all decisions made must be recorded.

Be suspicious of any organisation, chief executive, staff member or fellow board member who does not embrace with enthusiasm in this way of doing things.

Every sensible person will realise that these rules are there to protect the board members.

Therefore it’s reasonable to assume that if they don’t follow the rules, they leave themselves open to critisim and scrutiny.