Saffron Building Society

Strategic Board Review

Case studies

The Challenge

Warren Partners was approached by the recently appointed Chair of the building society Board to carry out a Board Effectiveness Review. There had been a number of new board appointments, so this, in conjunction with the change in his own role on the board, led him to feel that it was an opportune time to review board capability, performance and working practices so as to ensure the board was operating optimally. In addition, it would enable each member of the board to receive individual feedback on how they were perceived by the other board members so that the board dynamic could be assessed and optimised.

Optimal board performance was particularly important in the midst of a sector which was experiencing a period of considerable change. Greater regulation, more competition, changes in customer demand, products and routes to market were just some of the key challenges that the board was tackling.

Warren Partners were selected because of the strong relationship we have developed through providing the building society with Executive Search services and also as a result of our demonstration of a deep competence in reviewing business processes and board dynamics sensitively and thoroughly.

We used a combination of questionnaires and face-to-face interviews with board members and key internal and external stakeholders. Crucially, we reviewed individual responsibilities and the contribution of each individual board member, as well as how they worked as part of a group. We then provided each board member with individual feedback sessions on our observations about them and what the rest of the board had said.

In addition, we often undertake a number of observation sessions to see board dynamics in action, but not in this particular case as we were confident the group dynamic was already well covered.

The Outcome

The findings of the Board Review showed the board operated well as a coherent unit. There was clarity of understanding about the board’s mandate and resultant business vision and purpose. The board was also broadly addressing the needs of the various stakeholders overall. However, it was evident that some stakeholders, such as the industry regulators, were understandably getting a disproportionate amount of board time and attention at the expense of others such as customers and strategic partners. As a consequence, we recommended that the board revisited and restated its mandate to make sure it embraced all of its stakeholders and also took steps to ensure that they were given the time and attention they needed.

We thoroughly reviewed the board’s process e.g. does the board have a clear strategy, a clear sense of direction and effective ways of monitoring progress? Do they have the right competencies to achieve their mandate, and do they reach and deliver on high-quality decisions. We found that the board was very effective but could operate more efficiently, principally around their decision-making and committee structure. The root cause of inefficiency in these areas was in part historical and in part the result of regulatory change. As a consequence, we recommended that these processes should be reviewed and streamlined in the light of industry best practice and use of resources overall.

The board dynamics and communication were found to be generally good, especially given the size of the board, which numbered eleven. However, in face-to-face interviews, board members raised a large number of potential business and regulatory risks. Consequently, we recommended that the board agenda should be reviewed to ensure these risks were effectively debated and addressed, where necessary. Some of the key risks raised were highlighted in our recommendations. We also recommended that the board gave greater consideration to succession planning and that they placed more emphasis on ensuring that they had appropriate skills in the organisation to deliver the strategic and governance imperatives in a way that kept the organisation financially sustainable.

Feedback from the Chair, Geoff Dunn, was that we did an excellent job of sitting alongside him over the course of the review process and he fully endorsed our recommendations:

“Warren Partners did a thoroughly professional job. Their approach was very flexible. They engaged well with all the board members and provided very valuable one-to-one feedback and insights, for everyone on the board. I particularly appreciated the sensitive way in which this was carried out. Their recommendations were not a surprise to us, but rather confirmed some of the things that, collectively, we had been thinking about for a while. It was very helpful for us to get confirmation that we were doing some things quite well and to receive practical suggestions as to where we should give more focus, going forwards. Altogether, it was a very worthwhile exercise and I received very positive comments from my colleagues after the exercise.”


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