Manon Antoniazzi is chief executive and clerk of the Senedd — Wales’s national Parliament. Prior to this, Manon led Visit Wales, before becoming the director of culture, sport, and tourism for the Welsh government. Earlier in her career, she held positions at the BBC, Welsh television channel S4C, and the office of the Prince of Wales.
What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt during the Covid-19 crisis?
That could be a whole interview in itself. The crisis has accelerated developments that could have otherwise taken years and shown us how quickly we can act when the need arises. My expectations are now reset, even though we all hope these particular circumstances don’t recur. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
“Even when we have hundreds of people in staff virtual meetings, it feels more intimate.”
Whilst this period has brought intense challenges, there have been insights:
- First, by making distance irrelevant, remote working removes barriers to entry for people living with disabilities or in areas that are further from the Parliament building — which will allow for greater diversity.
- Second, because the virtual medium means losing many “organic” conversations, we’ve needed to up our game and engage more effectively at every level from pastoral care of colleagues to stakeholder communications. The quality of relationships has become more important. Even when we have hundreds of people in staff virtual meetings, it feels more intimate.
- Finally, we are finding new ways of measuring productivity and empowering people to work flexibly. That has resulted in improvements in reported well-being and morale — despite the fact that the can-do spirit that carried us through the first months has become tougher to maintain as the crisis continues.
What are the hallmarks of a great board meeting?
I have learned a lot from the parliamentary clerks with whom I now work about the craft of supporting good meetings: not only the procedurally meticulous plenary sessions, but forensic committee meetings producing impactful recommendations.
“Ultimately, a good board meeting is one that charts a path.”
A few things are essential in all contexts and good chairs will provide them: a safe space for debate in which diverse voices are heard; clarity of mission, with clear-cut, mutually understood priorities and roles; and high-quality information, that’s not just timely but balanced. Ultimately, a good board meeting is one that charts a path, facilitating good decisions that stand the test of time.
What would your perfect board pack look like?
A slim volume! The ideal board pack should give just enough background and information to make the issue and its significance clear, without going into details that, while usually interesting, tend to take time away from the actual debate.
“Agendas and papers should equip you to discuss the future rather than review the past.”
Beyond being concise, good agendas and papers should also equip you to discuss the future rather than just review the past. Naturally, they should also be ready in time to allow everyone to prepare thoroughly.
Are boards out of touch with society? If so, how can they re-engage?
A Parliament has a very particular perspective on that question! If our elected Members are out of touch, the electorate will make sure to let them know about it at the ballot box. Their close engagement with the public makes sure that we as officials, in turn, always remember also to whom we are ultimately accountable.
We put a lot of effort into public engagement and have had good results taking this activity into a virtual environment over the last year, striving to reach people who don’t normally engage with politics. Ways we have found effective include focus groups, citizens’ assemblies, virtual tours of the premises, events, and speaker meetings.
What is the smartest business decision you’ve made, or the one you’re the proudest of?
Sometimes you feel you land in the right place at the right time. The skills I’ve learned during my career are well employed in my current job. Stakes have never been higher constitutionally than they are today and being at the heart of it is very fulfilling.
Looking back, the moments of pride have been when I’ve caught the tide in that way: working with The Prince of Wales on sustainability, international production partnerships at S4C, reinventing the past to enrich the future at the Lottery Heritage Fund.
In terms of business, I’m proud of the way the Welsh tourism industry evolved during my time as chief executive of Visit Wales. Beyond the year-on-year figures we achieved, I hired a gifted team who reinvigorated the brand, nurtured connections with businesses, and put in place training to create sustainable economic growth that could outlive our specific programmes. Coronavirus has hit the tourism industry particularly hard, but I’d say these efforts have put it in a strong position to recover.
What advice would you give yourself if you were starting out again?
“Enjoy the journey.” I’ve had parts of my career which were more successful than others, but it’s the sum of it all that helped me figure out what I am passionate about and want to do.
I’d also tell my younger self about what I now know to describe as impostor syndrome. I was amongst the first women to attend the college where I studied and subsequently found myself in many jobs where I was in a tiny minority as a state-schooled, Welsh-accented woman. It took me a while to dare being my authentic self.
“You’ll sometimes struggle to make your experience best benefit the board you joined — so, seek a mentor who can give you shortcuts.”
Finally, my message to the freshly appointed board member I once was would be that there’s no need to figure out everything by yourself. Inductions will rarely be enough to give you the ins and outs, the internal dynamics won’t always be obvious, and you’ll sometimes struggle to make your experience best benefit the board you joined — so, seek a mentor who can give you shortcuts to that knowledge. You’ll flourish that much faster.
What book is on your bedside table?
I have a huge pile of books I want to get to, so I was hoping the lockdown would be a perfect opportunity. Like most people, I found out that the intensity of online work didn’t leave much time for the quiet moments needed for voracious reading.
At the moment, top of the pile is Robert Skidelsky’s biography of John Maynard Keynes. After I finish it, I am looking forward to reading Amanda Gorman’s debut collection of poetry, The Hill We Climb, once it is published later this year.
What is your Golden Rule?
To clearly articulate your values, then let them permeate all your work. This is never more important than when an organisation is under fire.
It’s one thing to claim that we stand for something. But it’s another to create an environment that allows these values to guide us with integrity at every level. Having that complete clarity helps everyone in the organisation challenge things so we can get them right — from the way we set overarching goals right down to how we conduct ourselves in meetings.