What makes a great housing association board?

With our Board Members’ conference just finished, it’s no wonder that our thoughts turn to the thorny question of ‘what makes a great board great?’

Gill Payne is Executive Director of Public Impact at the National Housing Federation

Gill Payne is Executive Director of Public Impact at the National Housing Federation

5 February 2018

Of course it’s the people – and the skills and knowledge they bring to the table – but it’s also the robust, dynamic relationships created within the board and brought to bear on key organisational issues. It’s how they work together to shape, test and challenge.

And never before has this been so important. As the speed of technology increases, the needs and expectations of our tenants and future customers change, and future economic, social and political predictions and plans become ever more dynamic and uncertain. The questions being posed are becoming more and more ambiguous and challenging.

At the same time, our core social purpose and determination to be “in it for the long term” only adds to the desire to make our organisations robust and innovative; ready to evolve and meet the needs of future generations.

So given this level of complexity and the need for healthy challenge, the issues of board talent and composition are crucial. What are the elements that need to come together to make a good board even better and more effective?

Certainly diversity is key to being prepared for the future and young talent has a big role to play. Recent surveys of boards have shown that while improvements are being made on board composition in some areas, in terms of age we are just seen boards generally just getting older – Since 2007, the average age has increased from 57.9 to 60.3. Only 2% of housing associations have anyone under 40 on their board.

With the growing pace of disruption, the rise of technological change, the seeming digitisation of everything with new consumer expectations of service and delivery, I believe that younger talented people could prove a real asset to any board.

And boy do we have young talent in our sector! At last year’s young leader’s event at our annual conference, I was blown away by the drive, enthusiasm, innovation and sheer cleverness demonstrated by the group. How do we tap into this?

This has been one of the drivers for a new programme, Raising Roofs, which supports talent within our sector to prepare them for a board experience. It will help young leaders be as effective as possible, adding value to the board and understanding the roles and responsibilities as soon as possible.

We all know that diversity is a key factor in creating and maintaining effective, value-creating boards. I really hope we can start to think more broadly about this and bring some of our incredible younger talent through, enabling them to share their fresh perspectives and dynamism as part of that strong, challenging and effective board team. 

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