There are no doubts that the highest performing organisations have an even higher performing Board. One of the toughest challenges facing many organisations, particularly those in the non-profit (or ‘for purpose’) sector, is how to move from an elected representative Board of Directors to an appointed skills-based Board.
The process of Board selection is becoming increasingly professional as many organisations face fundamental threats to their sustainability. Reforms to Government funding models and increased competition for available dollars are driving major changes to the way these organisations operate. A broader diversity of skills are now required of both the Board and the CEO.
Many organisations now advertise their Board positions with professional recruiters to run high quality, involved selection processes. These are designed to target the specific skills, competencies and personalities required for success.
So what do organisations look for when recruiting new Board members?
We are often asked this question by candidates looking to secure their first Board position or by CEO’s struggling with ineffective Board members. What needs to be considered first are the skills and knowledge required by the Board, followed by a careful review of the strengths and weakness of current Board members to ascertain where any gaps may be.
Key attributes that today’s Boards are likely to require are;
Commitment – Board responsibilities can be hard work
Being a Director extends to more than just attending a monthly Board meeting. Strong Board members are active and invested. They attend meetings, they come to events, they stay well informed and they take action on the organisations behalf. This often includes being an active, visible promoter of the organisation and fundraising as sustainability can be a key focus.
Accountability – taking responsibility
It is expected that Board members understand good governance, as well as their legal and regulatory obligations. The Board is accountable for the performance and direction of the organisation. It is imperative that Board members recognize this and adjust their approach to reflect.
Great Judgement – it’s a must
Board members have a responsibility to consider the needs of a wide range of stakeholders. They spend time thinking about problems and working towards solutions. Strong judgement helps to navigate difficult situations and to meet expectations of conflicting parties. Board members should have ample experience exercising good judgement.
Well-Networked – communicate with influence
Great Board members have a wide network to leverage and they will actively do so to support the organisation’s strategies and growth. They have a strong personal brand and they can introduce new business partners, customers and talent to the organisation.
Relevant Context – ability to understand and contextualise quickly
A great Board member will develop relevant context quickly in order to offer actionable and on-point advice. Understanding the organisation, its operating environment, its business model and its stage of growth are all key areas that a good Board member will become familiar with quickly. This is an especially important skill if they have no prior experience within the industry that the organisation operates.
Be a Coach, Mentor, and Sounding Board
Board members are often required to play the role of coach and mentor for Executives within the organisation, and they must be well equipped to do so. A strong coach or mentor does not dictate what needs to be done or how to do it. They ask questions and pose challenges designed to help their protégé see problems they may not have identified and encourage different perspectives. They use their wisdom and experience to help lead the Executive team towards appropriate actions.
Style and Approach – always professional
A good Board member won’t always agree on every issue. They will however effectively communicate with other Board members and the Executives. Talented Directors know how to invite candour into Board discussions without appearing rude, arrogant or pushy. They can argue their point without making it personal. The Board members need to be able to work collaboratively to address issues.
No Ego please
The best Board members leave their ego outside of the Boardroom and truly act in the best interest of the organisation, not themselves. They are life-long learners who remain committed to continued personal and professional development.
There are no doubts that there are many other qualities that go into making a great Board member. What really defines ‘great’ will depend on the specific needs of the organisation. However, as the process for recruiting new Board members becomes more specific and streamlined, these core competencies are no longer a wish list but standard requirements.