I heard a very strange rumour yesterday that Deaf Services Queensland is taking over/going into partnership (Tick which is appropriate.) with Better Hearing Australia, Queensland Branch. I have not been able to confirm what is happening and it may well turn out to be untrue but this is not the point of the article. The point is that when things like this occur it is always the consumers that are last to know. That these organisations exist to support Deaf and hearing impaired consumers is an issue that bypasses the brains of the big-wigs.
Now I do not advocate that every little decision made by our services and advocacy organisations be approved by the consumers but when the decisions that are being made impact on the very direction and culture that these organisations are taking then consumers need to be consulted as a matter of course. The consumers need to be consulted at the very beginning of the process not at the very end. This generally does not happen.
What really happens is that the process is taken to the very end. It’s all very cloak and dagger. Decisions are virtually cemented in stone; all that is needed is the signatures. Most probably the signatures have already dried on the paper. THEN and only THEN do consumers hear about it. It is announced with much fanfare and celebration, consumers are told it will happen and what wonderful benefits they will receive. Usually only a select few consumers are invited. Nice people who will agree with everything, smile, enjoy the free sandwiches and wine on offer. They will then go home with no objections and the powers that be will continue on their merry way. A few weeks later an official announcement is made and the powers that be will claim extensive consultation occurred.
Now this may sound cynical but I have been witness to this sort of thing. I have sat as a Director on many occasions and I can tell you that the most oft mentioned word is HUSHHHHHH!!! Often you are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Sometimes you are required, as a Director, to sign papers that state you are unable to say anything untoward about the organisation or publicly disagree with any decision made. It’s all very hush hush. There are some who claim it’s absolutely necessary that confidentiality of Board Meetings be maintained – well in most cases I disagree.
A Board of Directors are appointed by its stakeholders and they represent these stakeholders. Now, for example, if I am appointed to the Board by the Deaf community, I represent the views of the Deaf community to that Board. If decisions are being made that are, in my view, contrary to the needs and wants of the stakeholders that I represent then it is important that I bring this to their attention to get their views and inform them as to what is going on. After all the organisation exists BECAUSE of these stakeholders not FOR them. This is a point that is 0ften lost on the powers that be.
The powers that be are often of the view that THEY KNOW BEST! That consumers need to be seen but not heard. That because the Powers that Be are on six figure salaries then THEY should be trusted, revered and respected for every decision that they make. This welfarish, controlling and entirely disempowering mentality of the powers that be is at the very root of the problems of many of these big charitable organisations. They believe they are there to dictate and inform not to SERVE.
Where confidentiality should come in is where Directors voice opinions. Sometimes they voice opinions that if heard by the consumers could lead to backlash and even personal attacks. In discussing issues it is only the issues that should be discussed; it should never be a case of so and so said. Rather it should be a case of discussing the issues and options that are on the table. These issues and options should be discussed and ultimately decided by the stakeholders and not just by the gang of six or seven people that form a Board of Directors. In short stakeholders should be extensively consulted over a period of weeks or months and not just informed what has been agreed a few days before or after the decision is to be or has been finalised.
Of course CEOs hate this approach because it means more work for them. They hate it because it takes time. They hate it because for some unknown reason many of the CEOs seem to think that the stakeholders they SERVE lack the intelligence and know how to really understand what is happening. Now I agree that you can not consult for every single issues that an organisation must consider but when the decisions impact on the very future and culture of the organisation it is the STAKEHOLDERS that should have the final say.
Let us say for example The Royal Institute for the Daft (RID) has decided to sell the land that is occupied by the recreational buildings where the Daft meet several times a week. RID are in negotiations with Wigleys Chewing Gum School who want to buy the land. The land collectively is worth $30 million. Wigleys have put in an offer and the Board of Directors have to consider it. The Board are excited; by golly with $30 million perhaps they might even receive a sitting fee. The CEO is eyeing the prestige and the possibility of a pay-rise. Aside from these selfish reasons the Directors can see that $30 million can secure the future of the organisation, which is a very valid point.
In all of the excitement they realise that the buildings are heritage listed and to sell them they have to enter into sensitive negotiations with the Government. They don’t want anyone to know about the heritage issues because it might impact on the price of the sale. Again this is a very valid point. Brendan Boyce is a lone voice among the Directors. He wants the Daft to be informed and included in all discussions because, after all, they are the reason we are here. NO! NO! NO! Such a suggestion might jeopardise the sale, it’s beyond the Daft to grasp such complexities. The Directors and the CEO overrule Brendan … the sale must go through at all costs because it is the future of the organisation at stake as well as the sitting fees, the prestige and the potential pay-rise.
The process takes its path. After 12 months of intensive negotiations and sensitive discussions to lift the heritage listing a sale is agreed. Brendan reminds the Directors that they have yet to inform the Daft about the intention to sell or seek the Daft’s view of the possible sale. He further raises issues such as where will the DAFT meet. What of their history, their community – Brendan wants to know how we will ensure they Daft are able to retain and maintain these things. The Directors overrule Brendan promising to consult with the DAFT as to how to best use the proceeds of the sale.
The sale is announced, the Daft are angry. They have lost their spiritual home. They want to know why they were not consulted. The Directors and the CEO are bemused… How can they be so ungrateful? They promise consultations as to how the money will be spent. Of course the consultations turn out to be nothing but meetings that inform the Daft HOW THE MONEY WILL BE SPENT.
Having been a Director on numerous Boards I can tell you THIS HAPPENS! Stakeholders are the last to know. They are often seen as a hindrance to the process rather than a part of it. Personal ambition and gain are often paramount in deliberations- stakeholders are well down the pecking order. They are rarely consulted properly – They are told!! And we let it happen; I am not sure who is more to blame!
So members of BHA in Queensland… I don’t know if the rumour is true but I suggest if it worries you to start asking questions now. I suspect that if the rumour is true that the decision has been done and dusted and that you will be informed and not asked – the Directors and the CEO will have seen to that.