What's your problem?

I've been chief officer for a branch of a national charity for 18 months. The board asked me to identify and present the organisation's main problems, which I did. Six months later, when nothing had happened, I put a strategic plan to the board about managing these problems. The board has rejected my proposals but failed to come up with a new plan of its own.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This has three effects: 1, I'm bored without anything to manage; 2, Where I do manage, it's crisis management; and 3, I feel professionally undermined. I've tried to progress things by requesting a one-to-one with the chair of the board (my line manager), by holding a board planning session, by suggesting board members spend time in the organisation so they can understand its problems, and by involving our parent organisation. But it's eight months since my plan was rejected. What do you suggest?

A: It's at times like this that some of the virtues of cut-throat, rat-race, tooth-and-claw capitalist competition become more evident than usual.

I have known charities that manage themselves with General Electric levels of efficiency, urgency and decision-taking - but not all do, and yours is clearly not one of them.

Either your board has no faith in your ability to do the job for which they hired you - in which case, they should have told you so months ago.

Or else they feel the penalties for inactivity to be so remote that they can drift aimlessly along, unstirred by conscience or competitive threat.

I'm intrigued by the suggestion you made that 'board members spend time in the organisation so they can understand its problems'. To me, this strongly implies directors who are happy enough to enjoy the prestige of board membership but find actually doing anything useful somewhat distasteful.

In any half-efficient commercial concern, no-one would tolerate such a ducking of commitment.

Organisations that rely heavily on well-meaning volunteers often find it difficult to run themselves efficiently, but somewhere in your charity there must be a full-time, fully paid CEO.

He or she must be acutely conscious of the need, moral and humanitarian, for your charitable income to be put to good and efficient use.

You already seem to have taken just about every initiative that could have been expected of you but to no effect (I hope you've kept written records). It seems to me, therefore, that you now have little choice but to ignore protocol and ruffled feelings and seek a high-noon meeting with the national chief executive. If your documentation is solid and your demeanour controlled, your whistleblowing should be welcomed.


- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the both Guardian Media Group and WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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