Dame Gill Morgan is the Chair of NHS Providers. Prior to this, she was Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Assembly Government and CEO of NHS Confederation. She has served as Chair of the Alzheimer’s Society and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and the Faculty of Public Health.
What changes would you make to NHS boardrooms to make them more effective?
I would make them more diverse. The more boards reflect the communities they operate in, the more they can achieve. In my experience, diverse boards have broader discussions, are less likely to fall victim to group think and are more energetic. All of this results in better decision making.
Greater diversity on boards isn’t too hard to achieve either. I know of a NHS chairman who, on joining his new Trust, realised he had a largely white, middle-class board. When he challenged this, he was told the right people hadn’t applied to board positions. His response was to change the methods through which board positions were advertised to target a far more diverse pool of applicants. He had a diverse board within six months.
Has the way NHS boards operate changed much in the last few years?
The introduction of the Senior Independent Director role has been a change for the good. A common criticism boards face is the relationship between the chairman and chief executive: some relationships are hostile, others overly cosy – neither situation is healthy for the effective operation of the board. The SID can act as a neutral moderator, challenging a relationship that is too distant or too close and bringing a refreshing dynamic to the boardroom.
I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot more openness around board’s self-assessment, with boards reflecting on whether they have the right information, or if they’re even having the right conversations. This wasn’t the case ten years ago and that it’s so prevalent now is a reflection on the – quite rightly – increased emphasis on good corporate governance.
How important do you consider information to be in the boardroom?
It’s absolutely essential. How can you have a conversation if there’s nothing of substance to base your discussion on?
Boards simply can’t operate effectively without the right balance of information. Some boards suffer from the ‘sin of omission’, and have to make do with information that is insufficient, comprised of headlines and lacking depth. Others suffer from the ‘sin of commission’, where they have far too much information so they lose the key points among reams of narrative and numbers. Both issues need to be resolved, with the correct balance of brevity and insight achieved.
What book is on your bedside table?
I’m reading The Romanovs: 1613-1918, by Simon Sebag Montefiore. He writes so compellingly about the oddest stories. Unlike most authors, who’ll look at either the great acts of historical figures or their oddities, Sebag Montefiore sets their greatness in the context of their weirdness. For example, he’ll talk about the territorial advances made by Peter the Great, but also explore his fascination with dwarves.
What is your golden rule?
You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak. As a chairman, it’s important to challenge points raised at meetings – but listening to the discussion is vital.