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Board best practice - responding to the Covid-19 crisis

In her second blog looking at how sports bodies can react to the current pandemic, Imogen Sanders offers tips on boards' responses to crisis.

Date: 1st May 2020

Author: Imogen Sanders, Senior Consultant at Perrett Laver

Covid-19 poses challenges for boards across the sector, with many volunteer Directors facing crises in their own work and personal lives, whilst concurrently being more required than ever by their organisations. The rapidity of change can make it difficult to keep apace and, as such, we have pulled together a few quick tips with a view to offering some indicative guidance and considerations for boards that, regardless of your unique challenges, may offer some focus and perspective:

  • The buck stops with the Board. Be clear and open with your Executive or management team about the required level of reporting and dialogue as you step up the necessary scrutiny. With ultimate legal responsibility, you will need to monitor, assess, direct quickly, and review risk registers more regularly than usual, without adding undue pressure or stress. You will need to be prepared to demonstrate this accountability to your wider stakeholder groups, such as your membership or possibly corporate partners. For publicly funded organisations this will include the Government, via your investing body. Chairs may also want to liaise with their fellow non-executives to ensure that they understand the additional time commitment that may be needed and source their availability.

  • You may wish to consider your Board’s composition and ensure that you have the appropriate expertise and resource in place to provide the necessary check and challenge as this crisis evolves. See our upcoming blogs for more on this. Structural engagement and use of councils and subcommittees should also be included in this review. As mentioned above, more time may be needed from your non-executives, hence it's worth considering if you have due capacity and availability.

  • Review and ensure health and safety policies are up to date. You have a responsibility to protect employee wellbeing as well as wider society. Keeping abreast of government, health and other authority guidelines to ensure compliance will be critical.

  • Research and understand what technology and software is available to you, and consider how you will create a collaborative environment in a virtual context. When conducting meetings, explore breakout group functionality, polls and voting equipment, and the use of messenger and chat bars. This is especially pressing if colleagues are all muted and two-way communications are at risk. Be purposeful in bringing people into conversations and registering their comments; this will help hold focus against competing distractions and temptations to multitask, as well as breed a more inclusive environment. Now is the time to listen to diverse voices, not silo or silence them.

  • Celebrate achievements and successes, including continuity. Delivering services to members and customers and keeping some business activity ticking over in these circumstances has not been easy and deserves to be acknowledged. Encouraging and motivating your Executive, and not passing on stresses will be important, as will be recording and understanding what is working and analysing why. Take time to assess what the current circumstances have taught you about your organisation’s resilience and plans for coping with disruption.

  • Financial oversight probably needs little explanation or encouragement. This should be short and long-term, looking at cash flow and projection, and exploring alternative arrangements with funders, debtors, and indeed members.

  • AGMs are happening and are possible, but may be taking place in novel formats which require even greater than normal levels of organisation and planning. Ensuring compliance with legislation and with your governing document is essential. Choosing the platform for holding the meeting, testing it early, and setting the ground rules are also key, and remember to take minutes even if the session is recorded.

  • Know your people and what proportion of the workforce, including volunteers, may be vulnerable during this time. This will help future work planning. It could additionally be prudent to consider a succession plan to identify an interim CEO, and potentially other key management positions, in the event senior figures contract the virus or are unable to work for another reason. Across board, executive and other tiers, we are seeing organisations appointing additional directors or formalising deputies, and considering new layers of governance and leadership.

In addition to these short pointers, and the offer of a further call to any that would find it helpful, we know that there are multiple other sources of great advice around currently and people all willing to help. Leadership is often knowing when to ask others and needn’t be a lonely endeavour. We all want to see sports bodies weather this storm and it has been hugely encouraging seeing pockets of enhanced connectivity across the sector, and others from outside the sector volunteering to lend the benefit of their experience and time too. There are new communities forming and many existing relationships deepening. We hope this knowledge sharing and collegiality is something that far outlives this virus.

Imogen Sanders is a Senior Consultant at Perrett Laver, a leading international executive search firm working with mission-driven sectors worldwide. She is the lead for a major Sport England and UK Sport funded project aimed at enhancing diversity in non-executive leadership across the sector, through the identification, engagement and development of a network of “board-ready” candidates. You can reach Imogen at or connect via LinkedIn.