How To Recruit New Board Members That Fit Your Vision
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of churn among Board directors. Last year to May 2021 the S&P 500 added 456 new independent directors, the highest number since 2004. Patrick Dunne of Governance Publishing suggests a number of factors behind this increased turnover, including companies changing their strategies, underperformance being exposed and board members simply not having enough time to dedicate to their duties. There has also been a renewed focus on improving diversity at leadership level during this time.
As companies position themselves for the next five years, you need to know how to construct a board which embraces diversity of thought and experience, whilst being aligned to your ultimate vision.
Keep reading to learn about winning strategies for recruiting board members.
What Qualities to Look for When Recruiting Board Members?
Knowledge :You need to ensure there is sufficient understanding of your sector around the Board table to offer support and challenge to the management team. Being acquainted with your mission and business in general also helps get Board members up to speed as smoothly as possible.
However, this does not mean you look to recruit specialists into the board room, that is seldom a good idea. An expert can become too operational and stray into the remit of the executive or have a hard time creating wider value. Experts often work better on an advisory board or being hired as consultants.
Other key attributes for Board members are a good understanding of creating shareholder value, the wider stakeholder landscape including the communities you operate in and serve. This will help new joiners to gain the respect of other board members quickly.
Proactiveness : There is no point in recruiting a board member who will sit back and go with the flow. The way to keep the company moving in the right direction is for directors to be proactive and challenge the norms. Proactive directors face challenges head-on and alert their colleagues to issues they may not yet have discovered. However, board members must also be aligned to finding a positive outcome, not just pointing out problems otherwise they create unnecessary ‘noise’ in the boardroom in the limited time you have together.
It is also important that the board member understand his/her role – it is totally different from being operational. Naturally some boards are more hands on than others, but the role of a board member should be made clear, as should the role of the board itself.
Patience : Every board member should be there to make positive change to the organisation, but patience is also important. Change doesn’t always happen quickly and, in fact, on many occasions, that is for the best. Gradual change gives time for new ideas to be tested properly and enables all areas of the business to keep up with the adjustments needed to prosper.
Persistence :Being patient does not mean losing focus on the key priorities or allowing them to drift. The ideal board member would remain a persistent proponent of change to see a project, change or growth period through to the end and constantly bring the Board and the management team back to the core mission at hand.
Availability : Capacity is key for a new board member. Successful directors are in demand, and you must be sure that they can dedicate the required time to your board. This is often overlooked and sometimes the board candidate finds the role very attractive and becomes too optimistic about available time. It is not just about attending a limited number of board meetings, these days a considerable amount of time must be spent between meetings studying board material, participating in committees or sub-groups and strategy days etc.
Thinking strategically and from all angles : An ability to think broadly and see a problem from multiple perspectives is a very valuable trait. Other board members will trust the judgement of someone who is thoughtful and considers every aspect of the point they are trying to make. Seeing the big picture, thinking strategically, and looking up and out from the company is extremely important as the executives are naturally more focused on the organisation itself.
Dedication : Ideal board members do not just leave their association with your business at the door of the boardroom. They take it with them and use their time to prepare thoroughly before a meeting as well as to follow up afterwards. They are an ambassador for your brand and proud to be a member of your team.
Team player : Being a team player is a great quality for board members. You can’t do everything yourself, but as a team you can support the organisation in the best possible way. Ideal board members can collaborate, and they are often a better listener than speaker.
How to find the "right board member
You should have a recruitment plan in place to find the right candidates for board membership. This plan for the board recruitment process includes the following important steps to find the right board member.
Be clear about the skills and knowledge gaps
To build an effective board, you need to know which skills you are missing and where you require additional knowledge not just today but for the future. You should always be looking ahead to identify the future challenges that your organisation is likely to face. When considering new board members, you need to work out which skillsets the business will require in one, three or five years. I often call this Fit for Strategy.
Board diversity is key to ensure that you gain different perspectives on the challenges that you face from all perspectives. Harvard Business Review states:
“Board diversity matters but concentrating on only one form of diversity isn’t enough. Our interviewees suggested that social diversity (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, and age diversity) and professional diversity are both important for increasing the diversity of perspectives represented on the board.”
For example, with regulations on sustainability compliance gathering pace in many jurisdictions around the world, it makes sense to have an environment, social and corporate governance (ESG) expert on the board.
Regularly assessing the individual and aggregate competencies and diversity of your Board members against your current strategy and future challenges will provide a solid foundation for future recruitment.
If you’re wondering how to identify skill gaps within your board, BoardClic’s digital board evaluation platform can help.
Identify talent pool
As part of your recruitment strategy, you can maintain a list of prospective future directors, along with their key skills, and always be on the lookout for new sources of talent.
To achieve true diversity, you are likely to need a wider pool of potential candidates than in the past. You need to look for people with different backgrounds, different qualifications, and experiences, and go beyond the traditional networks to identify people you may not have otherwise come across.
Identifying a wide pool of talent can help as a starting point when filling a gap on your board. You should also be prepared for Directors leaving unexpectedly outside of the normal term limits. This can happen for many reasons: they can become short of time, e.g., if they take on another operational role or decide to add another board assignment; other roles can create a conflict of interest; or changes to their personal circumstances require them to step down. Having a list of candidates ready to approach will make the appointment process quicker and easier.
Write an accurate job description
Now you know what you want from the new director, you can write a board member job description that targets the right candidate precisely. Lay out the company’s mission, as well as the attributes that the successful candidate will possess. Don’t fall into the lazy habit of using old words and phrases from previous roles that may exclude diverse candidates. For example, do you really need someone who has been a Group CFO or Audit Committee chair before? Instead describe the actual skills your board really needs to bring maximum value to the organisation.
There is no point in sending out a general call for new directors. You will be buried under a pile of applications many of which will not possess the specific skills you are looking for. Instead, you should trust your network, use valuable references, or simply retain a specialized head-hunter.
Reach out to qualified prospects
Waiting for a candidate to come to you means that you might miss out on the right person. Therefore, you should also be proactive in approaching those individuals that have been identified as suitable candidates.
The nominating committee, or appropriate recruitment body for your organisation, will have been tracking suitable candidates, and should share their research and confirm the Board’s requirements as they conduct the process. This will help you target those who could be a perfect fit.
Create an interview process that gets the best outcome, not just repeats what you have done before
Every step of your recruitment plan should be geared towards finding the right candidate. Just because a traditional interview might involve three board members sitting across the table from a candidate, trying to determine their expertise, this doesn’t mean you need to run yours in this way.
Engage existing board members to decide
You can invite potential board candidates to a networking event as a less formal approach. Your existing board members will also get an idea about whether they could work well with the candidate. Engaging existing board members to ask their opinions on future recruits allows them to pick up on strengths and weaknesses that you might not have previously considered.
Your current directors will have to work with the new recruit, so their opinion on potential candidates is extremely valid. You want to create a cohesive and effective board, so making sure the majority is supportive of a new director is important. It should certainly feed into your decision-making.
How to build an inclusive and welcoming board culture
There are a number of steps you can take to foster a welcoming board culture, which helps when recruiting new board members. Here are some tips:
Look for inclusiveness as an attribute of new board members that you recruit. They are a visible part of the organisation internally as well as externally, and their behaviour sets the tone.
Encourage all directors to express their views and make sure they are heard.
Encourage challenging opinions, especially when considering new directions and developments. Positively challenging the accepted norm is vital if you are to create a robust business strategy. This requires transparency, openness, and trust among the Board. This doesn’t happen by accident. It needs to be carefully cultivated and regularly monitored.
Request feedback after each meeting. Directors can tell you how inclusive and welcoming the board is and you can work on any action points that arise ahead of the next meeting. BoardClic Express provides a platform for real-time feedback on the effectiveness of regular board meetings.
Who should manage the recruitment process?
Each company will have its own preference over who oversees board recruitment. It might be the nominating committee, or you could choose a separate recruitment committee to work with the board chair and senior executives. It depends on how you intend to run the process.
How can you find board members for a non-profit?
A non-profit board can recruit in the same manner as a corporate board of directors, but it might also look for prominent supporters of the cause. A future director might be a donor or a dedicated volunteer because they already possess a good knowledge of the organisation and its cause. This is helpful when looking for new members in the non-profit sector.
What is a board skills matrix?
The board skills matrix, sometimes referred to as a board composition matrix, displays the various competencies of the current board members. It offers a visualisation of where your board currently stands and where you can improve. This is part of your board assessment efforts and can help you when filling a board position.
Now you know how to recruit new board members, you can set your strategy to fill the skill gaps that you have. Understanding which competencies and experiences you require is the first step and requires you to look at where you are now and where you aim to be in the future. You should be looking towards where your industry is heading and what investors and other stakeholders will require in a few years’ time. Gaining a spread of knowledge, as well as proactive directors who are not afraid to challenge norms in a collaborative and respectful manner will lead to a strong board in the future. Diversity of minds to create a good debate before decision making is rewarding for the Board and for the organisation.
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