Union president Christine Sorensen and the British Columbia Nurses’ Union (BCNU) Board have big aspirations for a professional union with a strong, high-functioning Board. Achieving this vision has meant restructuring, long-term strategic planning, and significant training for the Board – and all within a three-year elected term.
In 2017, Christine was appointed as president (from the vp/acting-president role) and a new Board had also been elected. With a significant turnover in Board members and a strong drive for change, they began working towards their goals, immediately taking on some significant organizational and structural issues.
The BCNU Board (or Council) is comprised 25 people – 20 chairs for 16 regions in the province, and five provincial officers.
“We needed them to come together and unite very quickly as a Board as we were dealing with some very complex issues,” said Christine. “We were looking for something that would give them the skills and abilities to feel confident about making difficult decisions.”
BCNU had been working with Queen’s University IRC to provide a customized Labour Relations Certificate to their local leaders, and when they started talking about who could provide training to the Board, Queen’s IRC came to mind.
The union wanted a Certificate program from a reputable institution with experience in training for unions. They needed training on a variety of topics to help build leadership skills within the Board, so they reached out to Queen’s IRC Director, Stephanie Noel.
Stephanie was pleased to work with the group to build a customized Certificate program to meet their unique needs.
“They needed training that focused on effective governance and leadership skills,” said Stephanie. “But like many organizations, they also needed some foundational pieces around managing organizational change, labour relations, strategies for workplace conflicts, creating high performance teams and building trust and emotional intelligence.”
The themes that ran throughout all of the training programs in the Certificate included:
- Understanding their role and responsibilities on the BCNU Board
- The crucial role of teams and teamwork
- Building trust and emotional intelligence
- Effective communication practices
- Conflict resolution best practices
While the first BCNU Labour Relations Certificate was comprised of three, four-day labour relations programs, Board members did not have the time for four-day training sessions. Stephanie customized the schedule to the Board’s needs, and set up seven, two-day programs, to run monthly, at the same time as the members came from their regions for the Board meetings. And with that, the Queen’s IRC Governance and Leadership Excellence Certificate for BCNU was born.
Throughout 2018, a variety of Queen’s IRC facilitators and coaches rotated into the BCNU offices for each two-day program, giving participants the ability to learn from experts in each area.
“As the individual programs progressed,” Stephanie said. “It became clear that the vision for the final program on team-building would have to change. So we adjusted it into a more advanced version of the first program on governance effectiveness, because that’s what BCNU needed.”
Christine thinks there were many valuable components to the IRC training, but overall helping the Board move towards an understanding that their role is around risk-management was key. The term they often use is “nose in – fingers out”. A couple of the programs focussed on role-clarity. What is a Board member’s role? What is true Board governance? What is risk management? What is fiduciary responsibility?
While the newly elected Board members were experts on the nursing floor, most of them had never sat on a Board before. “In their first year, they’re trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do,” said Christine. “Now all of a sudden, we’ve made them responsible for a multi-million dollar budget, a collective agreement and staff.” For someone who was a nurse at the bedside yesterday, this is a big mental shift.
The training helped members move from being a “do-er” to being a leader and strategist. “It helped us with that mental shift of having the Council move to more Board governance and Board oversight,” said Christine.
Personally, Christine saw a lot of value in the sections on understanding emotional intelligence, not only for Board members as individuals but also as a group – learning how they function and make decisions, and what decision paralysis they sometimes get into and why. “The facilitators really challenged us to move to that higher-functioning level as a Board,” she said.
For other members who wear two hats – one as a Board member and the other as the ‘operational CEOs’ of their own region – the practical labour relations programs on things like conflict resolution and grievance handling were very useful for their regional work.
Christine points out that regional chairs have to operationalize the decisions made by the Board, so depending on where they are, they have to remind themselves, ‘I’m here wearing my regional chair hat’ or ‘I’m here wearing my Board hat.’
Tracey Greenberg has been a Licensed Practical Nurse for 34 years, and is currently the regional chair for the Frazer Valley region. He was impressed with the Queen’s IRC Certificate program. “As a Licensed Practical Nurse, university has not been something in my realm of education, so for me to get university training was just incredible,” he said.
“My thinking process has changed in regards to really listening to people. I just felt like my mind opened up to a lot of the governance pieces. It gave me a look at all the skills I have and what I can improve on.”
Tracey feels that the training helped him improve his leadership skills. He said people actually noticed a difference in his style.
“My way of thinking about things has changed. I am looking at more of the bigger picture and how all the little pictures create that picture, and how to work with them all,” he said. “I think the course really helped me do that.”
Tracey really appreciates that Queen’s IRC was able to create this custom certificate for them. “I just really found it so helpful.”