The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Two things boards and executive teams should be working on together

Like every organisation, school trusts are made up of lots of different teams. Whilst the board and the executive are teams within their own right, they also jointly make up an incredibly important team. In this article, I briefly explore two key areas where it is important for the board and executive to work together.

1. Wellbeing of staff

The issue of employee wellbeing has been growing in prominence over the past 5 years. Three quarters of employers are concerned about the impact of high pressure working environments on wellbeing according to research carried out by REBA (the Reward & Employee Benefits Association – see its report “Employee Wellbeing Research 2019”). The report’s authors argue that “the problem will only be dealt with by a change of culture led from the top and through all managers”. There is evidence that there has been an increase in board level support for wellbeing with boards saying that mental wellbeing of staff is their top concern. The research found that 68.4% of respondents have a defined wellbeing strategy in place and those that do not have a strategy in place cite funding as one of the top blockers. A finding that is worth reflecting on is that whilst 66.5% of boards support a wellbeing strategy only 9.2% actively drive it from the top.

The benefits of greater wellness of staff are well understood. Given the workload pressures, the recruitment and retention challenges in the sector, this is an issue that should be driven from the top. Is that happening in your trust? It needs to start with the board and executive team working together by discussing the issue. As a starter for those discussions:

  • boards and executive teams need to come to a common understanding of the priority that the trust needs to afford to this issue. If the board can get an evaluative cycle moving with a clear identification of the benefits of the strategy then the return on investment will be clear and funding should no longer be a blocker. Wellbeing will become a priority spend.
  • agree the key metrics – e.g. absence statistics, engagement levels and importantly the performance of pupils – that will be used to judge success in the trust’s investment in its staff wellbeing.
  • discuss and understand the executive’s plans in respect of the preventative, intervening, and protective steps and initiatives that it can put in place to address wellbeing.

2. Reward strategy

Reward strategy concerns the design and implementation of reward policies and practices to support and advance organisational objectives.

There is a large body of research that shows that the right reward packages can be highly influential in increasing the level of engagement and productivity of employees, as well as on an organisation’s ability to recruit and retain talented staff.

Within the context of the sector – government policy, significant regulatory oversight and active trade unions – a reward strategy can have particular challenges but examples of the type of principles that the board and executive may want to consider are:

  • designing pay structures and pay progression arrangements that ensure that the values, behaviours, performances and attitudes that the trust needs to be successful are rewarded and recognised (for example, linking individual pay progression with those types of performance that are valued by the trust).
  • where bonuses may be offered, position those earnings carefully against basic pay to encourage appropriate employee performances and ensure that the earning of those bonuses is linked to key and appropriate objectives and targets for the trust.
  • developing a pay policy that’s competitive with the labour market in order to recruit and retain key talent needed to achieve success while also taking into account internal market relativities. (For example, using golden hello rewards and retention bonuses, instead of offering more permanent reward incentives such as high value Teaching and Learning Responsibility payments and or higher starting points in the pay scale).
  • ensuring both ‘vertical’ integration of employee reward approaches with trust goals (such as developing performance-related pay arrangements to help increase pupil outcomes) as well as ‘horizontal’ integration of reward policy with wider HR policies (for example, ensuring that pay progression arrangements are aligned with a trust’s culture, purpose and mission as well as external factors, such as regulation set out by the ESFA).

A finding that is worth reflecting on is that whilst 66.5% of boards support a wellbeing strategy only 9.2% actively drive it from the top.

Emma Hughes

There are clearly many other important areas (e.g. growth strategy, wellbeing of pupils) where it would be helpful for the board and executive team to have discussions and agree a common understanding. You might want to plan these discussions into your board agendas now so that the necessary preparation can take place to facilitate an effective discussion. A useful place to start is to look at the trust’s strategy and identify the key areas that will be critical to achieving the goals you have set.