As Healthcare Improvement Scotland recruits for new Board members, Suzanne Dawson, a Non-Executive Director on our Board, explains the role, how she joined the Board and the importance of diversity and collaboration.
Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) is currently looking to appoint three new Non-Executive Directors to our Board. To many, being on a board may seem like a mysterious role, but they may not be aware that they could be exactly what a board is looking for.
My own journey to the Board
I have been a member of the HIS Board for three years, three of the most turbulent years in the history of the NHS in Scotland.
Before I outline some of my reflections on my role, let me tell you just a little bit about how I got here. Although I had previous board experience, it certainly isn’t a necessary requirement for us, and each of us has to start somewhere. For me, it was as a member of a Further Education College Board.
My professional career was in marketing, primarily in economic development, promoting Scotland in key sectors such as the life sciences, tourism, and the creative industries. Following maternity leave I decided to take a different approach to my working life and set up my own marketing consultancy business. Around the same time, I saw the College Board position advertised and, thinking it would provide me with a great new opportunity to contribute to my local community while gaining new skills and experience which I could bring to my business, I took the jump and applied. I didn’t have any previous board experience and I wasn’t wrong about what I would get from the experience. By the time I left the College at the end of my two terms I recognised just what an important and influential role a board member plays. It certainly wasn’t always easy and with a major estates project happening during my time with the College, there was a whole lot of learning to do.
Board life before and during lockdown
I was appointed to the Board of Healthcare Improvement Scotland a full year before our first COVID-19 lockdown and so was lucky to be able to spend time getting to know my new colleagues face to face. Like now, there were three of us starting around the same time, which was a great support and helped create a collaborative induction process. Like everywhere else, we had to change ways of working in March 2020 and Board business was no different. We adapted very quickly to Board meetings by MS Teams, and it is our intention to take some of the learning from our experience into the future. It is likely that some Committee meetings will continue to be held online, and others will offer hybrid alternatives.
The role of governance committees
Each Board member sits on a couple of governance Committees. In my case I Chair the Committee which is responsible for ensuring public and community engagement across NHS boards and healthcare providers. I also sit on the Quality & Performance and Succession Planning Committees. As Board members it is our role to provide scrutiny, to seek assurance around decisions which are being made and to hold executives to account through effective challenge. Committee work provides a good opportunity to dig deep and ask questions: where’s the evidence for this and are there any gaps in the evidence; what actions are being taken to mitigate risk; how might this proposal impact on patients or local communities; how will we recognise, monitor and evaluate success. These are just some of the questions I have heard asked while I’ve been a Board member.
Diversity makes us stronger
In my experience a strong board is a diverse board. By that I am talking about diversity of thought which goes beyond protected characteristics. Life or community experience which brings a different perspective adds real value to decision making. As our organisation operates across Scotland it is also important for us to fully understand the impact of any proposal across diverse communities, including both rural and urban.
While we can be a diverse Board, with Non-Executive Directors coming from different backgrounds and with a wide range of skills and experience, the key to the Board’s effectiveness is around how we all work together as a team. We are not simply a group of individuals, but are at our best when we work collaboratively, building relationships based on a clear set of values around trust, openness, compassion, dignity, and respect.
Could this role be for you?
If any of what I have said here chimes with you. If you have a real desire to help shape the future of the NHS in Scotland, while broadening your own skills and experience, I would encourage you to apply. You don’t need years of board experience, you just need the commitment to make a difference, to challenge effectively and influence decision making based on your skills, knowledge and experience however that might have been acquired. You have nothing to lose by applying and you, our Board and the people of Scotland have plenty to gain.
Suzanne Dawson is a Non-Executive Director on the Board of Healthcare Improvement Scotland.