Best practice is a wonderful thing… in theory. How many of us actually practice it though (perhaps it should be called “best theory”)?
A practice that all boards do that has had a light shone upon its “best practice” process lately is new director recruitment. Unfortunately I still see and hear about many boards suffering from stuck-in-the-past-itis, and continue to bring on new directors who are from their professional or personal circles (what I like to call the network economy). These new directors will generally think, look, and act much like the people who recruited them to the board. Not very effective for long-term sustainability.
There are some boards who have embraced modern director recruitment techniques; however, most boards have not embraced the new world of boards and don’t understand how new board recruitment techniques can bring huge benefits to the organisation.
Today I am going to share some techniques that boards can utilise to maximise the opportunities that an empty board seat can bring.
When considering who to bring on board…
Start with a skills matrix.
Every board should have a skills matrix that lists the current skills mix on the board. A board I sit on incorporates vital business skills along with specialisations and the skills unique to that industry (e.g. clinical skills for a disability NFP).
The skills matrix should also include the skills needed to successfully carry the organisation in to the future and that will help the organisation achieve its strategic goals. This means that you should carry out a skills audit regularly, even when you don’t have any board attrition.
The gaps in your skills matrix will identify to you the vital skills that are missing on your board, and will help you recruit someone specifically with this background (rather than hope that a friend-of-a-friend, or some poor soul attending the AGM, will offer to join the board just so you have some warm bodies to spread the workload).
Savvy board candidates will also ask to see your board skills matrix to see how they fit in to the overall board.
Consider the organisation’s strategy and vision.
What you want to achieve in the future is a good place to start when considering who to bring on board.
For example, does the organisation want to start exporting to China? Do you want to start selling your product / service into a different market segment? Do you need to gain additional government grants to do certain work? If you have a question like this, use it as the catalyst to find people with these skills, backgrounds, or experiences.
Take diversity cues from your customer and employee bases.
When considering board diversity, a great place to start is by looking to your target or ideal customer base.
For example, does your target market consist of different ages, genders (quickly moving beyond just male and female identifications), cultures, socioeconomic profiles, and/or locations? It may be worth bringing these experiences and perspectives on to the board to help you make important strategic decisions.
Another group of people to consider are your employees. What do they see when they look up the chain of command? Is it reflective of them and their diversity?
Don’t be put-off by non-conformists.
Boards are environments of considered contemplation, have rules and protocols to follow, and are generally conservative in nature. Brining in a radical thinker who publicly shuns staid board conventions will likely ruffle a lot of feathers and, not managed appropriately, could open the organisation to risks.
If you think your organisation could use the counsel, ideas, and input of someone like this, considering brining them on to the board as an advisor or as an independent sub-committee member. You still have access to their brain, without having to put your board – or them – in awkward positions.
When considering who to bring on to your board this list provides a starting point, it is by no means an exhaustive list of considerations you should make.
Next week I will share some ideas around where to find board members – beyond the traditional professional and personal networks (update: you can view that post here).
Until then, what other considerations do you think boards should make when thinking about who to bring on board?