Absolute need should dictate officer bearer board positions

It has largely been dealt with in the commercial world but not-for-profits and, particularly, professional associations still tend to lag a little and need to move with the times if they’re to achieve best practice governance.

I’m referring to the custom of a sea of director portfolios, filled by myriad office bearers who are increasingly superfluous to the smooth running of the organisation.

There was, of course, a necessity for this back in the old days when organisations were small and business was conducted in a more traditional fashion.
Constitutions always provided for a vice chair or vice president, ostensibly to step in when the chair or president was unavailable. Then there was a treasurer, usually the board member with a financial background and thus deemed best equipped to look after the accounts. A secretary was another must, tasked with taking the minutes of all meetings. Some entities like the medical colleges even had honorary treasurers and honorary secretaries to differentiate them from those doing similar jobs at management level.

It was very much a case of everyone on the board having an official position or portfolio, some of which were entrenched in the constitution.

As time passed and organisations evolved and grew, these roles lost much of their substance, even to the point of becoming redundant. The organisations now had a Chief Financial Officer and a sizeable finance department; they also had highly skilled executive assistants taking precise minutes at meetings.

It beggars belief that you would need people on the board to fill positions already attended to by competent managers and staff.

But some, largely for sentimental attachment to relics of antiquity, chose to preserve the titles, even if in name only. Thankfully most have taken the step to do away with them, including deputy or vice chairs and immediate past presidents.

In the case of a deputy or vice chair, the rationale for their existence – that they need to be there to step in when the chair is unavailable – is seriously flawed as a board is fully within its rights to decide that, for example, Person A will perform the role on Occasion B and Person Y when next there’s a need.

Similarly, medical colleges used to view immediate past presidents as almost sacrosanct and argue that as they knew the ropes, they were an asset in helping the new president slot into the role. Now, they’re realising that having an effective president – and that, surely, is the objective – should mean they don’t need the predecessor looking over the successor’s shoulder.

My message to those still clinging to these unnecessary posts and titles is to get with it. Only create official board positions if you absolutely need to…and taking it a step further, only put them in the constitution if you absolutely need to!

Until next time,

Kate.

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