Case Study

How Bristol Water Put Board Performance Into Perspective

Bristol Water provides water to about 1.2 million people in Bristol City, Somerset, Bath and South Gloucestershire. That’s over 260 million litres of drinking water supplied to 500,000 homes and businesses every single day.

Bristol Water

Founded: 1846
Turnover: £119.5m
Country: United Kingdom

Industry: Utilities
Type: Public Limited Company

Product: Board Evaluation

Four years ago, Bristol Water started to evaluate its board performance. They took this step to strengthen their corporate governance, ensure they were following the industry best practices and maintain compliance with the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).

Their evaluation process served well for external validation. But, last year, Bristol Water began a significant internal transformation as a company. They wanted more insights into their performance and a way to compare their performance to boards within their industry.

“The company embarked on a transformation programme in 2017 following the appointment of a new Chief Executive. The programme is ongoing and geared towards continuous improvement in efficiency and customer outcomes and customer service. It was important that we had an external benchmark of our board performance evaluation to give assurance that our board is operating effectively and has the right mix of skills to enable it to give oversight, challenge, strategic direction, and support to the executive management team. This was particularly important as the company was also having its price determination be considered by the Competition and Markets Authority, which was, in itself, a huge undertaking.”

That’s why Helen Hancock, former Head of Legal and Company Secretary, started looking for a more advanced way to perform board evaluations.

Solving the evaluation puzzle

The solution they had used before offered a good set of questions and was widely used in the water industry, which is highly regulated in the UK. But it had some drawbacks.

First, it was a paper-based exercise that was far from a productive approach, especially during last year’s lockdown. Second, Bristol Water wanted a way to benchmark their board performance against a wider corporate world.

The company considered several digital platforms and consulting firms, but none of them quite fit their requirements. Besides the large offerings, which were not suitable for them, they found very few other options that could perform a comprehensive board evaluation.

BoardClic stood out because it offered a way to perform an appropriate and objective board evaluation. The option to benchmark Bristol Water’s results against companies in a myriad of different industries made BoardClic the right choice for the company. Helen says about this step of the research process:

“It became clear to me very quickly that the evaluation approach, not only in terms of questions posed, but also the way in which the results were analysed and presented and the benchmarking available to us against industry competitors, was exactly what we needed.”

Finally, it all clicked!

Undergoing internal transformation in an uncertain world was enough for Bristol Water to cope with. They needed their digital evaluation tool to be integrated into their processes quickly and effectively.

“I think what came across is how efficient you guys are because you say you’re going to do something, you do it and you do it straight away and you do it very quickly.”

What stood out to Helen was how user-friendly and intuitive BoardClic is. This was an important consideration for her.

“You need a digital tool that is intuitive and that does not create too many blockages to people expressing their opinions and yet does not lead them to a particular conclusion.”

“If you want a board effectiveness review tool that is simple to use and gives you results that you can present to your stakeholders in a visually attractive fashion, at a price that makes sense, then BoardClic is for you.”

Helen Hancock

Former Company Secretary, Bristol Water

More to ask, more to know

Survey questions determine the quality of the data you are getting in board evaluations. As someone who already had experience in this, Helen knew the importance of asking the right questions. She was pleased to find that BoardClic provided an upgrade to Bristol Water’s existing evaluation questionnaire.

“We found that BoardClic’s evaluation questions were highly responsive. They were not dissimilar to the ones that we had been using historically, but they were slightly different, and I think they were an improvement to what we’d been using before. A distinct improvement.”

Another important result for Helen was the ability to collect anonymous data that was also quantifiable. She was able, for example, to segment the results and understand where the opinions of executive and non-executive directors different or intersected, without attributing the answers to specific people.

Hancock is now able to focus on ensuring that she supports the board in the right way to improve on the broader results. She found it very easy to distil the insights into an overview for the board and to present them at the next board meeting.

Healthy challenges

What was particularly helpful for the company secretary and the board was that there was a comprehensive overview of the results. This and the external benchmark provided by BoardClic enabled board members to gain confidence in their new board evaluation tool. In turn, this helped Helen gain the confidence that she had chosen the right solution for the Company and that the board, also had confidence in the assessment process and outcomes to underpin the board’s future focus.

“It engendered the confidence of the board that the evaluations were not only realistic but also effective and had a benchmark.”

After using BoardClic for a while, Helen found that the platform provided a healthy challenge for board members, encouraging them to prioritise time on strategy, challenge, and oversight. It also confirmed that the board had a wide and complementary range mix of skills, backgrounds, and expertise, whilst recognising the importance of continuing to focus on board diversity in future board appointments.

“I think the BoardClic platform has allowed us to focus on ensuring that we have the right mix of expertise and that we have board members who challenge themselves not only in their areas of expertise, but in areas that are not their expertise.”