Carnegie UK Trust: Giving learning a seat at the Board table
As Carnegie UK embarks on its new Strategy, the Board of Trustees was keen to consider where and how learning fits into governance, and to develop and define its own appetite and curiosity for learning. We were delighted to be invited by Chair Sir John Elvidge and CEO Sarah Davidson to help the Board develop its thinking in these areas.
The end product of our process – delivered through interviews, workshops and much toing and froing – is a Learning Statement, setting out Carnegie UK’s commitments around culture, questions, and practices. Three things stand out.
First, an articulation of the meaning of learning. This felt especially important given the tendency of foundation boards to default to a focus on narrow, quantifiable matters, and steer away from more open-ended, reflective conversations.
We want our learning to be active and forward-looking, changing what we think and how we behave in pursuit of our strategic aims. With a strong focus on ‘so what?’ and ‘what next?’, the measure of our success as a learning organisation will be the impact of our learning on how the Trust deploys the various tools and approaches at our disposal to help achieve the change we want to see.
Second, embracing the concept of ‘strategic learning’. This refers specifically to the learning process as it relates to the development and oversight of strategy, where a board and senior team review progress against aims, consider what has gone well and less well, and make adjustments to the delivery of the strategy in the light of this intelligence. For trustees, the concept helped to reconcile concerns about a possible tension between ‘formal governance’ and ‘learning’ and to, shift some of the Board’s attention away from scrutiny and oversight towards curiosity and adaptation.
Third, recognition that how you do it matters. For this transition to work, trustees will need to model different and consistent practices and behaviours – in part to embrace the idea of more open-ended conversations and offset the risk of defaulting to more formal and rigid conversations and interactions. It will call for kindness and patience as people adjust. That will need to extend to rewards and incentives which are often linked to things like KPIs and metrics, rather than, say, curiosity and experimentation. Distinguishing between ‘the accountability space’ and the ‘learning space’ will also be important.