I realised a few years ago that I wanted to become a board member for a housing provider and so be able to continue using skills and knowledge gained during a wide-ranging ICT career. The idea fitted in with the voluntary work that I have done for almost 20 years, helping resolve ICT problems for the more disadvantaged members of society. And as an aside, this type of voluntary work is very rewarding; if you feel so inclined, please have a look at charityithelp.org.uk and abilitynet.org.uk.
Matt Cooney and Dilip Kavi from PA Housing gave me many useful pointers, such as what can you offer that will help a housing provider move forward on their digital agenda? I started to look for a post in earnest after finishing at PA Housing in October 2018 and was fortunate to be successful on my first attempt.
After an initial filtering interview by one of the housing sector’s leading recruitment agencies, I reached the second-stage interview at Rapport Housing and Care’s head office in Kent. The six-strong interview panel (chairman, chief executive and four other members) was initially rather daunting but it soon developed into a conversation of equals (which I’ve always found to be indicative of a good interview).
As with any interview, any prior research will be time well-spent:
- Get a copy of the housing provider’s annual report, business plan and ICT strategy (although they may not want to release all of these).
- Their website is an obvious calling point, so can you suggest any improvements?
- What is their governance and viability rating, stock profile and area of operations?
- Read their articles of association.
- What particular problems are they are facing and what you can do for them?
- If you’re still in post, your current board directors may know the housing provider in question and be prepared to give an opinion.
- Do you know anyone there (very likely in our sector)?
- Your current governance team should have the NHF and housing regulator’s publications on assurance, risk, compliance and so on.
- nedonboard.com is a very good source of information.
Coming back to the interview, on my way there I made a point of visiting one of Rapport’s flagship schemes, which paid off and went down very well in the interview, though you need to be careful how you slip in such facts; do monitor the ‘temperature’ of the interview.
As we were leaving the interview, Rapport’s chief executive, Leon Steer, said that they had other candidates to see over several weeks and so it would therefore be some time before I should expect to hear back from them. I was therefore surprised to hear the following morning that Rapport wanted to offer me a trustee post.
It’s worth explaining here that trustees, board members and non-executive directors (NEDs) are essentially all the same thing. Housing providers are increasingly paying their NEDs, typically a few thousand pounds per year. For the sake of disclosure, Rapport doesn’t pay (although they have considered the matter) and I wasn’t interested in payment; it was simply a very good, mutual fit for both parties.
If you are thinking about following a similar path to become a trustee of a housing provider, there are a few things worth knowing and considering:
- Few housing providers ask for ICT skills and experience; more commonly, it’s financial, development or operational experience that they want. ICT will usually be sought if they are about to embark on a big upgrade/replacement programme.
- How well do you meet the role’s ‘person’ specification (make you specifically address each requirement and do not just lazily refer to an attached CV)?
- The logistics of travel (for which expenses are usually paid).
- Time commitments – adverts will often say “six board meetings plus one strategy planning day per year”, so an apparent total of seven days. I’d recommend at least doubling that figure to allow time for reading board papers, asking (pre-meeting) questions and doing your own research.
- In the fullness of time and dependent on your own skills and performance, you may be asked to join a committee, such as overseeing the housing provider’s financial performance; again, double the apparent time commitment.
- Expect and look for a housing provider that has a board appraisal process.
- Don’t forget that being a board member is all about maintaining a high-level oversight and strategic view; you’re not an operational director (other people are already being paid to do that) and you should only get involved in details if something is awry or if something hasn’t been well explained.
Having only recently joined Rapport, it’s too early to give you my view from ‘the other side of the table’ but in a future article I will hopefully cover life as a trustee, what I’m learning and, more importantly, what I’m giving back.
Barry Alford is a trustee at Rapport Housing & Care.