Tightening the belt

06 November 2023

There is gratification to be found by getting smarter in how we budget – whether it’s shopping for groceries or running an organisation

The rising cost of living has prompted many of us to adopt more frugal shopping habits. A Retail Week survey last February found that 80% of UK consumers said they would consider switching to a cheaper grocer to save money on their food shopping.

And that’s exactly what seems to be happening, with sales at the budget supermarkets growing more than twice as quickly as their rivals in the year to May 2023. The discounters continue to improve their market share in this fiercely competitive sector, while their long-established rivals have lost ground.

None of this should come as any surprise. Cutting one’s cloth is clearly the responsible thing to do when budgets are tight. Without even thinking about it very much, it feels obvious to shop around and review our spending habits and behaviours.

That last point is key. It’s not just about finding ways to spend less on the same stuff – it’s about taking a step back and looking at how we do things and what we consume, and then adjusting our activities to make sure we’re getting our money’s worth.

Once we’ve made the decision to adjust our spending, there’s an enormous sense of gratification when we manage it successfully. We feel less wasteful, more virtuous, more responsible.

Exactly the same principles apply to boards. Of course they must ensure that the organisations they manage are not wasteful – that they maximise value for money while offering the best possible service.

There is a clear moral case for leaders of public and third sector organisations to offer cost-effective care to the populations they serve, for instance. As the Center for Global Development sets out in its 2013 paper The Moral Imperative toward Cost-Effectiveness in Global Health, failing to do so costs lives: “…the least effective HIV/AIDS intervention produces less than 0.1 percent of the value of the most effective. In practical terms, this can mean hundreds, thousands, or millions of additional deaths due to a failure to prioritize.”

But there’s an additional layer to this moral imperative. Leaders’ responsibility to be cost-effective extends to the way they reach decisions about the care their organisations offer – and indeed everything else they do.

The best boards ensure that their own governance is as simple as possible – but no simpler – and each board member checks that their personal behaviour is aligned with the organisation’s aims. And, just as for the discount shoppers, there is great satisfaction to be felt when this is done well.

Also, it’s important to remember that time costs money – for most of us it doesn’t make sense to can fruit or rummage through charity shop bargain bins in an effort to be thrifty.

Making meetings matter

The average board member spends a lot of time in meetings – perhaps too much. Last year, the Harvard Business Review highlighted research suggesting that 70% of all meetings actually prevent people doing productive work and that nearly all employees (92%) see meetings as being costly and unproductive.

Here’s where that moral imperative rears its head again. Boards have a responsibility to examine structures and processes to ensure that meetings only take place when they’re really necessary. They should be planned properly, and run efficiently and respectfully.

Those attending have a responsibility to read papers beforehand, to turn up on time and make a positive contribution. This means bringing their full attention to the discussion rather than drifting off to deal with emails. It means ensuring that all voices are heard, with everyone respecting the contributions of others and pitching their own appropriately.

Some organisations are already good at this. Some are aware of their shortcomings but might be struggling to address them. And some are beset with unknown unknowns, ploughing on as they always have without realising how much expensive executive time they’re wasting in inefficient meetings.

GGI’s Making Meetings Matter programme has helped numerous organisations to improve their performance in this important area. We estimate that we saved one NHS client more than 1,000 hours of executive/ director time per year by helping them to ditch more than 500 meetings and improving the efficiency of those that remained. All of this valuable time could then be given back to managing the organisation and providing direct patient care.

Why not get in touch today, to discuss how GGI might be able to help you?

Meet the author: Martin Thomas


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Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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