I’ve recently been recruiting new board members for a board and will be presenting to a group of volunteer-based organisations next month on modern board recruitment methods. Thankfully, boards seem to be becoming more intentional and mindful of the people sitting around the board table, and how they can help or hinder the performance of the board and organisation.
If the conversation about director succession or board recruitment is absent, here are five questions for you to ask at your next board meeting.
1. Do you know what you need?
Rather than just finding warm bodies to fill empty seats, start with clarifying the skills, knowledge, behaviours, personality, network, etc. that you want and need around the board table. A good idea is to refer to your board skills matrix and the organisation’s strategy to start getting a clear picture of the type of person/people best suited to fill the vancancy.
For those boards that want to take the conversation into very bold and candid territory, another question to ask is if anyone who is currently on the board should no longer be there. We all have our use-by date and should be frequently reflecting on the value that we’re bringing to the board and if it’s still at level that is required and acceptable.
2. Do you know when everyone’s term is and when they are due for renewal / expiration?
The worst thing you want to have happen is have a bunch of board members all leave at the same time because everyone’s term limit is ending. The next worst thing is losing a critically skilled board member without having worked at replacing them.
Both situations can be quite detrimental, and both situations are completely avoidable.
Knowing when terms expire helps you to be proactive about starting recruiting for replacement board members. On my boards we use a simple spreadsheet that plots terms renewals and term expiration dates. It is shared frequently, and is regularly reviewed by the relevant committee. Doing this also ensures that term limits are regularly and openly discussed.
3. Do you know people’s intentions about staying or going?
In addition to knowing when peoples’ terms are up, knowing the board members’ intentions around staying or going helps the board not be left in the lurch by someone suddenly leaving. After all, anyone can leave a board at any time.
The Chair is the person who should regularly be checking in with board members offline to get an understanding of their intentions of staying or leaving the board. The Chair can then start the replacement wheels in motion if that director has flagged that they are looking to leave.
Of course if you’re considering stepping off your board at any time, I encourage you to raise it with the Chair as soon as practicable. It’s the courteous thing to do.
4. Do you have a recruitment plan/approach?
By now it should be obvious that having a proactive approach to director recruitment helps ensure the right people are in the right seat at the right time. This helps the board run at an optimal level and ultimately helps the organisation be successful.
Spend some time putting together a process document – that the board provides input to and approves – outlining how new directors are recruited and on-boarded. The Governance Committee I Chair incorporates this approach with scheduled reviews of current board and committee composition, forward planning for director replacements, annual skills matrix preparation, and director performance reviews.
5. Do you need to build some bench strength?
I’ve already mentioned committees in this article. And this question refers directly to your committee members. Done well, these folks can be your go-to replacement board members. This is another huge benefit from having independent people sitting on your board committees (i.e. not just board members): you get access to their skills, experiences and networks, and you also have a ready-made board member for when a vacancy arises.
Be as proactive about filling your committees with outstanding candidates as you are with the main board.
These questions help your board to become forward thinking, proactive and strategic when it comes to finding and recruiting new members. You will become a board that people want to join and you won’t have to wait for some poor soul to put their hand up at the AGM, lumping you with a potentially substandard board member.