27 October 2022 – Mental Health Network webinar

27 October 2022

This week, we were joined by Beatrice Fraenkel who shared her reflections on being Chair of Mersey Care as her term comes to an end.

Beatrice spoke of chairing Mersey Care for 14 years, including 10 years alongside the chief executive that she appointed, Joe Rafferty. She spoke of becoming accustomed to being a chair and noted being a chair is no different to being member of a board, as a non- executive director who carries responsibility for an organisation. "The skill Joe values most in me is my ability to allow the team to get on with things, whilst ensuring both oversight and support."

Beatrice spoke of making non-executive appointments and the opportunity this provides to shape the range of skills and people which enables and enhances what Mersey Care is.

"When chairs leave, their replacement may not have the same values and will re-shape the organisation."

"The current appointment process for chairs is very ‘tick box’ based, with a lack of expectation of learning how to ensure the best leadership skills are in place for the future. Governors who make the appointments may not have a strong understanding of an organisation’s needs, changes and risks, so may not have a clear idea of what they are looking for."

"We now witness a certain inability to take into account something that is external to the immediate appointment process and being unable to use one’s own knowledge and experience of what the right fit is. If one shift in the board isn’t compatible, it can start to diminish the effectiveness of the whole board. Being in the wrong role can also be harmful to the candidate themselves."

"It is primordial to understand what an NHS chair needs to be and how the appointment process can be examined to ensure this is incorporated, whilst recognising chairs are members of the public with a certain title and role.W

Beatrice spoke of her future work regarding regeneration with the levelling up department. She also mentioned maintaining a strong relationship with her chief executive and knowing what she was looking for as she appointed Joe. She spoke of rejecting applicants, despite huge pressure from the regional office.

"Joe was not who the region wanted at that time; however I remember seeing ambition."

Someone echoed Beatrice's views regarding appointments of senior posts and spoke of writing to the region and Amanda Prichard regarding this.

"It has taken two years for them to acknowledge the issue, likely expediated in part due to the Messenger report. The lack of ability to probe questions, along with feeling measures leading up to the interview are ignored, as the power is often given to the chair of panel to make the decision."

To Beatrice: "What have you learned most from?"

"I learnt a lot about herself, some of which isn’t always comfortable, as well as how people behave under extreme stress and anxiety, which is fundamental to understand where things can go wrong in a trust."

"Is the system no longer fit for purpose?"

"The structural deficit that foundation trust governors bring is becoming more apparent. The system is not designed to match the need that is now apparent. The governor ‘gap’ and the fact the role is voluntary can result in an inability to train and develop governors with regards to values."

Someone spoke of Beatrice's kindness, reassurance and welcome to him as a new chair.

"I agree the process can be more about luck than good judgement."

"The challenges of a trust affect the chair and the board and impact on the trust’s ability to deliver going forwards."

"Being clear about the difference between executives and non-executives is also an important factor."

Someone spoke of their experience as a chair of colour, and constantly thinking about how they are perceived and how what they say is interpreted.

"I always try to be myself."

"Beatrice, do you have any advice on what to think about in one's second year as an effective chair?"

"Be yourself – although it which isn’t always easy. Others can feel if people don’t know who they are and aren’t comfortable and confident about exercising it. The essence of who a chair is, is what they bring.

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