Case study: Restructuring the Board to align to the strategy

Hetan Shah, Royal Statistical Society

1. Summary of the development/change and who led it

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) went through a strategic review and developed a new strategy based on four key objectives (public interest; education; the discipline; the profession). The overall strategic review was led by a ‘Long Term Strategy Group’ and took place over 18 months, with much consultation, including with the RSS Council. As part of the adoption of the recommendations, the RSS governance was changed by our Council so that a Vice President was aligned to each of the four goals. Other changes were also made to reduce numbers of meetings, make key committee functions clearer etc.

2. Drivers for the development/change

  • Honorary Officers / Vice Presidents of the Society tended to be focused on the activities of the Society (e.g. journals, conference) rather than the achievement of strategic objectives. If we wanted the strategic aims to happen, we needed senior people in the governance structure to have their roles designed around these.
  • There were too many meetings. We went from 5 Council, 4 Executive Ctte & 2 Finance Ctte meetings a year to 3 Council, 3 Executive Ctte meetings. (Exec Ctte took on most of the functions of the Finance Ctte).
  • The distinction between Council and Executive Committee was not clear enough. Therefore we made it clearer that Exec Ctte is there to support the staff in the running of the organisation and to deliver the strategy set by the Council.
  • Overall governance was too operational. Therefore the strategic review made it clear that governance committees needed to become more strategic and let staff focus on execution and operations.

3. Date implementation started and stage reached by December 2015

Implementation took place fully from 1st January 2014.

4. Outcomes to date 

  • The alignment of Vice Presidents with the strategy means that there is significant ownership of the strategy at the highest levels of the organisation. VPs job is to ask ‘how is my strategic objective being delivered?’ and they are able to work with staff and other volunteers to take forward their strategic area. This has certainly helped the organisation focus on strategy rather than activity.
  • The reduction in meetings has been helpful in reducing the amount of servicing (production of papers etc). It has also made meetings more strategic as there is less time and so things must be prioritised. E.g. Council receives fewer ‘reports for information’ and is now more focused on decision making or providing strategic advice.
  • The new (smaller) Executive Committee has a different role from previously. The Senior Management Team find it an extremely helpful committee to get guidance on how to operationalise and achieve the strategy.

5. Main challenges /barriers that had to be overcome and how this was achieved

There have not been any significant issues or barriers.

An interesting issue that was explored was whether the (large) Council should continue to be the body of trustees. This was reviewed during the strategy review and more recently by the Council itself, and on both occasions it was decided that Council should continue as the board of trustees (rather than passing this to the Executive Committee). Given this is the approach we have taken, it has implications for ensuring that all Council members understand and fully discharge their duties as trustees.

6. Lessons learned/ advice to others considering similar developments

The key to all that has been achieved was the long and consultative approach we took in the strategy review. The process took 18 months. We established a highly credible group of RSS fellows (plus one external person). The group sought input from all the committees of the Society. It commissioned thinkpieces from thought leaders in the community. After it had drafted its report it then sent this out for consultation to the entire membership, as well as all the Society’s committees. The report was then revised before it was sent to Council for adoption. This long and consultative process meant that the best thinking could be taken into the process, and also that there were ‘no surprises’ by the time the recommendations were formally adopted.