In the style of “the greatest radio show of all time”, our "castaway" this month is Graham Colls who joined Cranfield Trust as a volunteer in the South West in 2012, with a background as an experienced Chief Executive in the housing sector. Graham has completed successful projects for the Trust focusing on governance, operations and leadership.

Graham Colls
Graham Colls, Volunteer

Sorry to disappoint you if you have come to this blog looking for tips on how to run your desert island. That’s not what it’s about. But at least the headline worked in attracting you here. You may have yawned at yet another piece headlined ‘Top governance tips ‘, and I would have yawned writing it.

Instead, I am going to hijack the Desert Island Discs format to try to replicate the unique combination of personal and professional that has made the programme popular for 70-odd years to try to tell you what I think is essential to run an organisation properly. 

So, Graham, welcome to the blog. Tell us a bit about yourself. Well, I have recently retired from full-time employment after 40 years in the world of non-market housing, ‘social housing’ if you like, 25 of them as a housing association Chief Exec. The usual 17 years of schooling put me on that particular day- shift, all the way from a Tyneside back-lane primary to the bright lights of Oxford, and Durham University Business School. I’ve been volunteering as a management consultant for Cranfield Trust for a few years. 

Palm Tree Vector

Now then: the first thing I am going to do on that desert island is find its constitution and read it, or write one if it hasn't got one. There may only be me on it but I’ve got to know what I am responsible for, who if anyone I am responsible to, what my powers are, what my powers are not, what the other residents of the island expect even if they are only lizards, all the tedious stuff like that, without a mastery of which I would be flying blind, just making it up as I go along, hoping for the best. No-one wants to do that, do they?

Next, I am going to take proper minutes of my meetings with myself and the lizards and keep them somewhere safe. After all, other people will be sent here after me and I would like them to be able to understand why I did what I did because doubtless there will be times when they will be thinking ‘What the …?’ In fact, I am sure I would like to be reminded from time to time of why on earth I did what I did.

Lizard vector

So I have now got a bit of a system going. Nice; but it’s not good enough on its own. What am I going to do while I am here, me and the lizards? I will have to have a purpose. Will I try to escape, or just sit and relax, or plant things, or teach the lizards Latin, or invent new, tasty meals from the sparse ingredients around me? I will have loads of options and I will have to decide. So I will, and I will stick to it, and I will review how I am doing from time to time, and maybe alter course a bit, but only with sufficient reason, and apply myself to achieving my purpose.

Onto the fourth thing. By this time, I may be thinking that I am a volunteer here after all, or maybe a pressed man, so it does not matter too much if I don’t really apply myself. Some of the lizards have their heads screwed on. I don’t have to do things because I know they will.
Boy, do I have to stop there and give myself a talking- to. Volunteer or not, paid or not, I have duties, not least to myself, to do this properly. So I will.

Next: not all of the lizards have got their heads screwed on, unfortunately. Some are just not up to it, even if they are very nice. Some aren’t even nice. Some don’t agree with what I am trying to do. Hmm. I could probably get better team players from that other island in the distance. I don’t want to get rid of some of the creatures here as they have been here a long time but, well, if they won’t or can’t join the rest of us in pulling in the one direction. What else can I do? Nothing. That’s right. They will have to go.

Compass vector

Another good thing about those new lizards is that they will probably bring new ideas and information, which will help us. After all, I can’t be the only one that’s been in this position.

So there you are, Kirsty. The most important things I will need to make a success of this are good systems, good people, good information, and a good purpose for my time on the island. If I’ve got all of that, I reckon that should really increase my chances of making good decisions on the island.

Which one thing of all those do I think is the most important? The good people, without a doubt.

And my book? Well, I think that running my island well is going to be as much about having the right frame of mind as devising rules and regulations and procedures. So I’m going to take ‘Representative Government’ by John Stuart Mill. It may be about 150 years old but it hits lots of nails on the head. And it’s beautifully written.

And my luxury? Can I turn down the offer of a luxury? I think running things properly will be reward enough, don’t you?

We would like to thank Graham very much for taking the time to write this blog for us and for sharing his experience. 

If you’ve been inspired by Graham’s blog, take a look at other volunteer viewpoints and get in touch to find out more.


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