When the going gets tough…
Ten questions covering critical areas to help your organisation manage uncertainty
Partner, Campbell Tickell
Issue: 63 | December 2022
We live in uncertain times. The cost-of-living crisis, climate change, the energy crisis, war in Europe, we are not long over the worst of a pandemic, public services are under extreme pressure and we are facing potential spending cuts, staff shortages, trade and supply chain problems, cybersecurity challenges – we all know what the list encompasses. It doesn’t make happy reading.
How then can we aim to ensure that the organisations we run – public, non-profit and commercial alike – remain viable and robust?
Here is a range of critical questions you should be asking – in particular of your board and executive – to help you get through the challenges and remain resilient.
Is your board operating at the right level – is their focus strategic rather than operational? At the same time though, how clear is their understanding of what the organisation does, and the services you deliver to your customers?
How diverse is your board? Does it offer a mix of skills and experience, both from the sector(s) in which you operate and from outside worlds? How does the board hear the customer perspective? Do your board members/trustees come from a range of backgrounds, sufficient to ensure informed and rounded debate?
Does the board deliver positive and constructive challenge to the executive?
How up-to-date is your financial stress-testing? Are you clear on what developments – external and internal – would break your business plan? What mitigation steps could you line up (e.g. pausing new property or scheme development) if some or all of the modelled stresses came about?
Are you maximising your income? Which elements could be vulnerable, and under what circumstances? What actions could you take to improve the bottom line? Are you prioritising spend on where it is most needed?
Do you understand the risks you face? What is on your list? How are the black swans doing? Do you have realistic mitigations in place?
Do you keep all the most likely and potentially most damaging risks under review, along with the mitigations available?
“Are there signs of burnout in your team? If yes, what steps are you taking to address these? What actions are you taking to maximise retention of good staff?”
What arrangements have you in place to listen to staff, and hear their voices?
Do you understand where the pressures are? What forms of mutual support are available? Do you provide staff with access to financial advice? Do you have mental health first aiders?
Are there signs of burnout in your team? If yes, what steps are you taking to address these? What actions are you taking to maximise retention of good staff? How realistic and developed is your succession planning?
When did you last review your staff terms and conditions? What about your working environment – is it conducive to effective performance?
Do you operate hybrid working? Does this include ensuring your team members have access to the facilities, equipment and support to enable them to work effectively and productively?
Do you understand your organisation’s culture – indeed, do you recognise what it is? How do you ensure a positive culture is maintained, especially in a world of hybrid working, and as new members join your team?
Is a positive organisational culture shaped and reflected by the board and the executive?
How are you hearing your customers’ voices, both in relation to the ways services are delivered, and at the governance level? How effective is your data collection on your customers, and the services and support they want and need? What access do your customers have to advice and support in areas they may need help? Do you operate, or should you consider, a hardship fund?
Is it as good as it should be? Does it meet your customers’ needs and expectations, in the context in which you operate? Does it meet regulatory requirements?
Conversely, are you providing some services for which there is no demand, or that could be restructured to offer better value for money? Is it time to review your operating model? How robust and accurate is your data in tracking your performance?
How strong is your supply chain? Can you access the materials you need? How would you cope with a contractor going bust?
“How good are your IT systems? Are you reviewing effectiveness and investing to keep them up to date? Are you exploring opportunities afforded by Artificial Intelligence?”
Procurement and VFM
How effective is your procurement? Do you routinely develop a contract strategy before going to market on major new initiatives and schemes? Are your specifications clear? Do you know what value for money (not lowest price) represents in the market concerned?
Are there some goods and services you would be better purchasing in partnership with other organisations and/or through consortia?
Innovation and partnerships
How have you embedded the Covid-19 learning experience – the rapid responses, the joint working across sectors - into your strategy and operations? Is your organisation geared up to try out new approaches? How do you judge their effectiveness?
How good are your IT systems? Are you reviewing effectiveness and investing to keep them up to date? Are you exploring opportunities afforded by Artificial Intelligence?
Do you know what your partners think of your organisation? When did you last commission a stakeholder perception survey?
Are you sufficiently resilient to continue as you are, or could it be time to consider new relationships?
Horizon-scanning and strategy
Accepting that we are living through difficult times that can often be hard to predict, how good are you at keeping an eye on current developments and on potential directions of travel? How well do you understand the macro-environment?
How adaptable and flexible are you, as circumstances change?
How resilient is your organisation?