I’m sure that most of you will be aware of the Finance, Governance and Code of Conduct/Disciplinary Regulations reviews that were carried out in 2018 and 2019. To varying degrees, you may also be familiar with their contents. The Trustee Board have certainly studied them in detail and set up an Implementation Group towards the end of last summer, tasked to develop and execute an action plan for all of the recommendations.
The Implementation Group was initially under the chairmanship of Terry Spall, President Elect; now Terry has begun his Presidential year, I have taken over as its Chair. As I take up this significant responsibility, I wanted to write to introduce myself to you, to provide an update on what has been achieved so far and what you can expect as we aim to deliver the vision those reports described.
You may know me as a long time and active member of the Institution. I’ve been a member of the IMechE since soon after I joined my sponsoring company for a pre-university year in industry, so long a period that is difficult for me to believe! In my early career I created an MPDS scheme for my employer and have mentored a number of promising engineers through to chartered status and supported some to Fellowship.
I was involved in the 2000 relaunch and running of the Manufacturing Excellence Awards, in the Manufacturing Industries Division (including as Chair) and have served for several years as an elected member of Council. My motivation in taking on this role is to do the absolute best job I can for the Institution including all our members and staff, to deliver the transformation envisaged in the review recommendations. These aspirations have been shaped by thousands of inputs from members and staff, analysis of issues and concerns, much deliberation and creative and innovative thinking.
In 2018, when the Governance Review team was formed, I was one of two Council members asked to join the team. This was a duty I took on willingly, believing that the process we were embarking on provided us, as members, with the opportunity not only to ensure that the problems and frustrations of recent years would not be repeated, but equally importantly, to shape our Institution to be truly fit for the future, to reflect our collective values and to deliver our core purpose of improving the world through engineering.
After the three reviews had been completed, I was very keen for the critical essence of their recommendations to be delivered faithfully. I was delighted to be asked to be part of the Implementation Group that has since been working on turning these recommendations into individual practical delivery plans, working with experts, teams and various bodies across the Institution.
When conducting the reviews, our consultation process sought to discover whether the energy for positive change and conversely the root causes of previous problems arose primarily from the structure and organisation or from behaviour and cultural issues. It was clear that both of these played a part. We all know that good structural arrangements can be confounded by poor behaviour, and that a good culture can be held back by poor organisation, but equally the benefits of having both good structure and organisation and good behaviour and culture creates a really high performing enterprise – that is what we want to achieve.
Progress to date
So, what progress has already been made, and what are we working to deliver now?
- The most fundamental change is to the enable Trustees to focus their efforts on key governance activities for which they have legal responsibility, and hence devolve power and responsibility for operational boards and committees to members dedicated primarily to those areas. Linkages will be retained between Trustee Board and operational boards with Trustees still being members of those boards, but they will not chair them. They will chair the key governance activities which are financial, assurance and risk, and strategy.
- Perhaps the most visible change however is the creation of a Finance Board, with independent external membership, producing a new-style annual report that presents the finances of the Institution clearly and straightforwardly to members. The Audit and Risk Committee also has a strengthened remit to ensure its independence and thus create a rigorous assurance review body to hold the Institution to account. These changes, underpinned by better training, skill-based committee composition, processes and systems will provide the checks and balances that so many members were concerned were missing in recent years. Combined with improved transparency and openness we are on the way to changing our culture and building back trust.
- In parallel, using Charity Commission governance best practice, we concluded that the Institution needed to have in-house governance expertise, rather than buying this in on an ad-hoc basis. Having ready access to this expertise, would provide the Trustee Board and Executive with rapid, reactive and proactive guidance. Maria Powell, who many of you will know from her long service for the Institution, has been appointed as Chief Governance Officer and, amongst other responsibilities, is reviewing the By Laws and Royal Charter, collecting together the changes that we need to make to allow the review recommendations to be implemented, as well as identifying those we could usefully make to enable the Institution to operate more effectively in the future. The plan is to bring those to members as soon as possible, maybe even by the AGM in September, for discussion and approval.
- Meanwhile, a new Code of Conduct is in draft and the Disciplinary Regulations have been updated with legal guidance. Once finalised, the Disciplinary Regulations will ensure a clear and fair ‘best practice’ process is followed when complaints are raised. A dissemination exercise will take place to ensure all members formally adopt the Code of Conduct as a condition of membership – this is a current requirement but often overlooked and something we need to be more emphatic about if we are to be proud of our professional standing and our shared values as well as respecting diversity and inclusion.
- One message that came through loud and clear from the review’s member survey was the difficulty some had experienced in ’breaking in’ to play an active role in the Institution, in some cases in spite of multiple offers they had made. Our culture was viewed as being inward looking, closed, cliquey and London-centric.
To address this and at the same time to enable the Institution to benefit from the skills and energies of more of our members, we are creating a radically new Nominations Committee (NomCo). You may have seen this mentioned in my recent “From Birdcage Walk” blog. NomCo will be transparent in the way it operates, whilst respecting the privacy of individuals. Its membership will comprise members with relevant skills and experience in HR/talent management augmented by additional non-members if required. It will be charged with establishing a paradigm shift in how individuals are selected to fulfil specific roles or join particular committees, ensuring this is based on skills, expertise and competence, assessed against those required for the role, whilst offering the potential for members to develop through their IMechE involvement, too.
NomCo will also be responsible for creating a more inclusive and welcoming ‘front door’ for any member expressing an interest in getting more deeply involved. It will post opportunities on the website and proactively encourage members to put themselves forward. We see NomCo as a real agent of both cultural and operational change, enabling wider participation and ensuring that the Institution can benefit more effectively from the diverse skills and expertise of our members.
There is much more underway and still much to do. For some recommendations, the detailed solutions are straightforward but substantial effort is needed to implement them; for others we need to do more to find a workable way forward. Council is one such area and, as a Council member myself in the period up to the 2018 AGM, I shared the frustration of many that Council was unable to make a real impact at that time. With such a rich melting pot of knowledge, experience and commitment (and shaped by consultation responses), the review saw the potential for Council to operate more effectively as a think tank, able to debate and advise on cross-cutting topics in and on behalf of the Institution, limited only by members’ imagination. Based on comments received, members would value Council being able to take an overarching view of a wide range of matters of concern to our members, from global challenges of supporting our growing population within planetary resource boundaries, to changes in the nature of work and employment. Its link to NomCo is also one that will shape our future closer to home by giving experience at the heart of our Institution to a wider range of active members.
Finally, staff/member task and finish teams are being created to work on the improvements to communications - there were more than 20 secondary recommendations on this area from collated consultation responses - and culture change. We are also looking to identify potential members of the new-style NomCo to ensure its independence and effectiveness. If you have expertise in any of these areas and would be interested in helping us to improve our Institution, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you will see, I shall be working with member and staff colleagues to communicate progress frequently and accessibly, but please also see more comprehensive updates on the website.
I hope and believe that, with the best efforts of the Implementation Group, staff and active members, the coming 12 months will see the vast majority of the structural changes in place. Supported by good progress on culture and behaviour, we will see a rebuilding of trust that will mean we can once again be proud of our Institution and what it achieves in ‘improving the world through engineering’.
our Institution and what it achieves in ‘improving the world through engineering’.