What does TPR say?
The main points of TPR’s guidance on Training and Improving Knowledge are:
- A 21st century trustee needs to have the knowledge and understanding to perform the role within six months of appointment. A professional trustee must have relevant knowledge and understanding when appointed.
- Trustees should identify their strengths, weaknesses and any gaps in knowledge and understanding by carrying out self-evaluations and board evaluations. This will inform what training may be needed.
- Link training plans with the scheme’s business plan to ensure the training is more effective and meets the demands of the scheme.
What do we think?
Trustee Knowledge and Understanding (TKU) has been on TPR’s radar since the Code of Practice in 2006. The flame is being turned up. Will this help trustees see the wood for the trees? Or just see more trees?
The guidance encourages recognising the importance of trustee skills and actively owning a training plan. Although upskilling and training sounds clearcut – first work out skills and knowledge gaps (informed by board evaluation and self assessment) and then plug them – in practice there can be resource, time and other constraints that get in the way of doing this.
When we talk about skills, we also mean board skills - like the ability to make a good decision, to weigh and challenge advice, to make a cogent point confidently, to oversee an outsourced contract, to delegate with accountability, to get the right assurance about control. This is distinct from understanding e.g. investment markets. Both technical and board skills are needed. Technical skills can be shared and built upon, board skills are required by all and they need practice. The Chair's role and therefore their board chairing skils are crucial to successful decision-making.
A skills ‘audit’ can best be set in the context of the trustee’s objectives and workplan and with an eye to trustee (and pensions team) succession needs. It can also help to shed more light on board diversity (in its widest sense) and competencies, like the use of interpersonal skills, that help trustees to be effective. Trustees can use the resulting skills matrix to support better engagement with the employer and members (as appropriate) on succession plans, selection and appointments, to refresh skills and diversity.
Appointing or co-opting someone with technical skills, such as investment, covenant, contract oversight, is also getting more common as a way to fill gaps. Though it’s important not to over-rely on the ‘expert’. A training plan that caters to individual, board and committee needs is a powerful governance tool. But it only works if trustees buy in to the need to continually develop and then use what is being learned. This is where board evaluation and confidential one-to-one discussion with trustees can also be powerful.
Trustee one-to-ones are a useful setting to talk about development as board members. The role does not get easier and these conversations can be very helpful to people. They can be held with the Chair or from time to time with an independent party, like Muse. A tailored plan can then be made and shared. It’s important to bring in training ahead of and during relevant work so that it can be practically applied. Advisers need to be involved at the right time to structure their training and advice at appropriate levels.
An example is the triennial DB valuation, where trustees dip in and out of a complex issue. Setting up training and preparation sessions - on what the next valuation involves, what will be different this time, the main decisions coming, the main risks - usually proves to be a good approach. People have different learning styles. It’s worth noting and talking about these preferences. For example, some people like to read up first then they feel confident to discuss and ‘try it out’; others learn best by doing and talking about it, then consolidating it through more reading and reflection.
There are a lot of moving parts to training and improving knowledge in a trustee environment. Using one or two of the ideas above and adapting them to you own situation is likely to be worthwhile.
What do others do?
Building trustee cohesion and using soft chairing skills
This trustee board had experienced difficulties in working together. We helped them agree roles, skills development and ways of working, and to recognise the importance of soft skills in selecting a new Chair.
This was a sensitive assignment with a trustee board that had experienced a difficult set of circumstances and was not working well together. There was a need to clarify roles, rebuild trust and decide what kind of chair was needed for the future.
One of the powerful ways the trustees did this was through a series of workshops which we facilitated for them. ‘Difficult issues’ were surfaced and discussed non-judgmentally to enable all trustees to be heard.
Outcomes of this work included skills development and a code of conduct, clearer role profiles and an improved training plan. The soft skills ideally needed in the next chair were recognised and a robust search and shortlisting process were undertaken to achieve that appointment. A revised trustee remuneration policy was also researched and implemented.
Trustee selection for skills, knowledge and diversity
These examples illustrate how a plan for selection can be used positively in trustee board appointments.
We have worked with many clients who take a proactive approach with the employer and with members to selecting and appointing new trustees, to refresh skills, fill identified gaps and increase board diversity.
All use a clear role and person specification setting out the range of skills, competencies and any particular skills or experience it would be helpful for candidates to demonstrate. This includes diversity.
In our first example, the Employer positions company appointed trustee roles as a planned development opportunity for middle to senior managers, liaising with the Trustee chair on skills needs, based on the trustee board’s succession planning work. This helps attract some younger candidates, and more women.
Another client has used selection via an independent panel to shortlist suitable candidates for member-nominated appointments. In this case, there is then still an election process, to choose from the shortlist. The selection test is ‘general suitability for the trustee role’ to encourage diversity of background.
Where it is difficult to find active members to appoint, or if skills are in shorter supply, some clients have appointed experienced independent member nominated trustees. Others have extended eligibility to deferred members (with conflicts safeguards) and/or to more retired members with relevant career skills. Several clients have used thorough external search processes to appoint independent or professional Chairs, working up a detailed role and person specification, liaising with the Employer as required.
Using board evaluation for trustee development
These trustees updated their independent board evaluation and used the one-to-one meetings with trustees to identify areas of performance, skill and knowledge to strengthen for the work ahead.
This client asked us to update the board evaluation work we had helped them to carry out previously, to see how things had progressed and identify aspects of performance the board needed to address which would have a beneficial impact on the future governance of the scheme.
Within this work, one-to-one meetings with each trustee were held to review their role and contribution, skills and strengths, and areas of the trustee role, skills and knowledge to develop, in light of the forward strategy for the scheme and the trustee’s business plan. The balance between board and committee work, and their roles within this, were also considered.
A refreshed skills matrix and training plan, personalised with each trustee, and drawn together for the board was one outcome. A more structured approach to decision-making, with timely training, clearer papers and more simply explained advice is another ongoing focus. More use of chairing skills in meetings, with trustees better equipped to contribute effectively, is a third important win that the board is working on.
How can we help?
- Trusteeship: what’s changing for trustees, what TPR expects and the 21st Century campaign, professional trustees, corporate governance influences, impact of headline stories
- Evaluation and assessment: what are board evaluation and trustee assessment, why is TPR encouraging them, what are the benefits, what approaches can be used, what are the costs
- Independent review by our expert team: is our board fit for purpose, how well do we run the scheme, what works well, what changes would help most for the future, how do we compare
- External facilitation of a board’s own self-assessment: to check are we asking ourselves the right questions, what themes and trends emerge from the results, what could we learn from others
- Board self-assessment: helping structure the questionnaire, running the confidential online questionnaire process for you, providing a survey report on the results for you to take forward
- Experienced facilitation to help trustee boards consider outcomes of an evaluation/review, decide what to take forward, the intended impact of changes, and to agree some next steps
- We also help trustees review how particular committees are working, what would help to build or sustain effectiveness for changes ahead, facilitate discussion of ideas to agree a way forward
- Questions and reporting to help trustees consider their own role, performance, skills and training needs and any additional support or other changes that would them help for the trustee year ahead
- Holding conversations with each trustee to talk about their role, governance ideas, skills and development, training needs and contribution to trustee work in the coming year; or supporting the Chair to do this; reporting back to the board on board skills analysis, gaps and training plans
- Garnering unattributed, constructive views from trustee peers and others agreed, to give appropriate feedback to the Chair/ each trustee, on strengths, contribution and possible areas for development
- Analysis informed by discussion with trustees individually or in groups, to build a fuller picture of skills, experience, competencies, areas of knowledge, diversity; identifying gaps, key man risks
- Using this to inform the board’s training plan and succession needs
- Discussion with the Chair and/or the trustee board to reach a landing on succession plans
Trustee training sessions
Board evaluation, board self-assessment, committee reviews
Trustee self-assessment, Trustee one-to-ones, adding ‘360’ peer views
Skills and gap analysis, training plans, succession planning
Muse Advisory helps trustees and companies to better govern and manage their pension schemes. We believe that good governance leads to improved outcomes for members; through better fund performance, effective and proportionate management of risk, value for money and cost efficiencies and strategic and dynamic decision making.