Unique board mentoring scheme has been “inspiring”
Published by Sarah Thomas for Thrive Homes in Housing and also in Communities
Elspeth Mackenzie (Chief Executive Thrive Homes), Clifton Robinson (Chief Executive of the Housing Diversity Network), Thrive Board Member Peter Matza (mentee on the programme) and David Orr Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation
A trailblazing scheme that has been providing housing association Board members with bespoke training and mentoring to strengthen their skills has been “inspiring”, according to David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation.
Mr Orr was speaking during the final workshop run as part of a six-month board mentoring pilot, which blended individual mentoring with group learning and support for seven board member mentees from housing associations across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
The scheme was the brainchild of Elspeth Mackenzie, Chief Executive of Thrive Homes, and Kate Russell, from Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust. It involved each mentee being closely matched with a knowledgeable mentor for one-to-one support, as well as the chance to take part in group development workshops addressing key housing issues.
It was put together with the help of experts from the Housing Diversity Network, which specialises in diversity-related mentoring, training and advice across the housing sector, and built on its well-established Edge
Forward Mentoring Programme run for housing sector officers.
Mr Orr said: “If we don’t have board members, then the housing sector as we know it wouldn’t exist. Board members play a key role in housing associations, as they own the ‘mission’ of their organisation. They are guarantors of that mission and must ensure it doesn’t get de-railed as well as guaranteeing their organisation’s probity and reputation. It’s one of the most exciting jobs in the country!
“This programme has been inspiring and mentoring should be used as a basis of support for all board members. We want board members who are ‘experts at being board members’, which means analysing information, asking the right questions and confidently applying the process of giving or withholding consent to decisions.”
The pilot programme, running since July 2013, has already had the backing of Julian Ashby, Chairman of the Homes and Communities Agency’s Regulation Committee, which regulates social housing providers in England.
Elspeth Mackenzie, Chief Executive of Thrive Homes, which owns and manages more than 4,100 homes across Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, said being an effective board member needed members to fully understand their business, have the confidence to raise difficult questions and to take responsibility for their organisation’s vision, values and social purpose.
“In a rapidly changing operating environment, it’s vital that board members have the right knowledge and skills,” she said. “This unique scheme has given participants the support they need to fill in any gaps in their knowledge, learn from others and maximise their existing skills.”
Feedback from mentees at the final group workshop included:
• “I now have the confidence to stop executive officers and say – ‘have you got time for me?’ knowing they will say ‘yes’”.
• “Finance is not as difficult as I thought it would be. You have to look at the big picture”.
• “I wanted to learn as much as I could to show a good choice had been made in my appointment. I’ve learned how to make a good strategic impact”.
• “You can get there so much quicker if there is a meeting of minds”.
Mentors reported a benefit from understanding the different perspectives of other organisations, as well as finding out what it was useful for their board members to know. They also agreed the scheme would improve the quality of board members and aid the recruitment of new board members.
Clifton Robinson, Chief Executive of the Housing Diversity Network, said in his closing remarks that following on from this successful pilot, the Housing Diversity Network will be working alongside the National Housing Federation during 2014 to promote a Board mentoring programme around the country, both for existing and new Board members, and will be seeking partner organisations to work with them.