Government, communications & productivity | Paula Carter, Port of London Authority NED
Recently appointed Non-Executive Director for the Port of London Authority, Paula Carter, shares her best advice for board members, her Nurole experience, and how she would invest £10,000.
Paula Carter has worked in the Broadcasting and Communications sectors, covering both private sector and public companies, during a time of transition from a linear terrestrial to an online digital ecology. Most recently she was Director of Planning and the Board Secretary for Channel 4. Her non-executive roles include several government departments, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Parliamentary Ombudsman, and she is an experienced Chair. She is currently a non-executive director of be the business, a government-backed business-driven productivity movement, and sits on the Committee of the Wine Society. Her consultancy career included roles in the Cabinet Office and advising a Parliamentary Committee, as well as working for the Communications Regulator, Ofcom and the Royal Opera House. In her spare time, she is a member of the RFU and European Rugby disciplinary panels, a magistrate and a pilot.
Through Nurole’s platform, Paula joined the board of the Port of London Authority as a non-executive director.
What’s the best professional advice you have ever received?
“Mirror, signal, manoeuvre”. Mirror - first, check carefully what’s going on around you. Signal - before you make a change of direction, tell people what you are doing, why you are doing it and how you will do it. It’s hard to over communicate and people usually underestimate how much communication is required for a message to get through. Manoeuvre - once you say you will do something, make sure you follow through. Otherwise, people get confused. It’s folly to promise and not move ahead.
What’s your best advice for a new board member?
Play yourself in slowly - think like cricketer Geoffrey Boycott in the boardroom! There is a lot you need to listen to. It can take a year to understand how an organisation works, how to express things for people to understand and figure out the currency of the organisation. Work out the areas you can add most value and focus on a small set of them. Keep at it.
What’s your best advice for boards who need to work with government?
Government departments are in a permanent state of flux - ministers with enormous energy and ambition but limited time are rubbing up against an underlying organisation with vast wells of experience where pressure for rapid delivery can be low. Often the tension between the two is unresolvable. The key is to identify the people who can unlock things for you. Working out how to position your agenda as aligned with ministers’ agendas and policies will help move things faster.
How should boards be thinking about their communications strategy?
Understand that we now live in a world where you can’t control communications except in terms of what you put out there. It’s key to make sure your own staff hear first as they are the people who you rely on.
Usually I like to see an internal and external communications strategy for a given piece of work. If they are not both ready to go and do not tie up, it probably hasn’t been properly thought through.
What are the most commonly overlooked productivity gain opportunities for boards?
Quite often it’s about simply carving out the time to allow people to look up from the daily grind and asking them what can we do better e.g. wages, training, experience etc. The best insights often come from asking people across the organisation, not just senior management.
What has characterised the best boards you have worked with?
Boards where people respect one another, enjoy one another’s company and find ways to exploit each other’s differences. A good chair is the key to making that happen.
At the BBC we used Myers-Briggs to ensure people thought differently. Now it’s about diversity of background, gender, social class - whichever way you look at it, what’s important is to have a variety of thinkers and a safe space for people to contribute.
When have you got it most wrong professionally and what did you learn?
When I haven’t been true to myself. Organisations can respect and appear to promote individuals with particular characteristics. When I have tried to be something I’m not, I have failed miserably. If an organisation has a set of values that are not aligned with yours, move rather than try to change the organisation.
If you could only pass on one piece of advice, what would it be?
Know yourself. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses. Play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses.
Your Nurole Experience
How did you hear about Nurole?
Recommended by the Chairman of Channel 4 who thought I would be interested in the RFU board role.
How have you found the experience as a member?
Nurole is very user friendly. It was easy to adjust the filters to my interests and has resulted in me joining the board of the Port of London Authority which is a great fit given my past experience. I also like recommending other people and helping others as I have been helped.
What advice would you have for other members applying through the platform?
Apply for roles that really interest you. If you don’t get one, it may not be you but strong competition so don’t take it personally. Take your time and focus on the things that really interest you.
How would you explain what Nurole does in one sentence to someone who doesn’t know it?
A user-focused online board appointment service.
About You - 10 Question Quick Fire
3 words the person who has worked most with you would use to characterise you?
Positive, energetic, multi-focused.
Can I have a whole series? Harry Potter!
Don’t have a singular favourite restaurant - anywhere that cooks with fresh seasonal ingredients and has a good wine list!
Yet to come! Best yet was a flotilla holiday in Croatia where we sailed for two weeks having never previously sailed. Wonderful food, scenery and people.
“Be yourself - everyone else is already taken” - Oscar Wilde.
Have so many! Flying is the most liberating experience.
Professional achievement of which you are most proud?
Launching a new TV channel for ITV in 18 months from scratch.
When does your alarm go off and how many hours of sleep do you have on average?
Don’t have an alarm. Sleep for as long as I need to - typically 7-8 hours.
Best idea for a £10,000 investment?
Invest in yourself! Do something you have always promised yourself, like learning to fly or buying a share in a boat. You will earn a return on that investment and it will be in ways that may surprise you.
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