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The key to effective board recruitment and succession planning is to have a comprehensive recruitment strategy in place at all times. Seven out of 10 boards we see, do not have one. We all know that change is inevitable and the best run boards are the ones that plan for, and are able to quickly respond to it. So why are our Boards not better prepared?

Your Board members are as important as your CEO, so be prepared to invest in a robust recruitment process to ensure you have the right people driving and supporting your organisation. Consider establishing a recruitment or governance committee (if you don’t already have one) to manage the recruitment process and be sure to make the process transparent to all members of your community, to encourage collective ownership of the process. It’s important to keep the recruitment process active even when there are no vacancies.

Constantly develop and nurture a pool of potential candidates with the required skills and a shared passion for your mission, and look to engage them with the Board in a support capacity, perhaps to undertake a one-off project suited to their skill set (with the added advantage of both sides being able to work together and test for capability, cultural fit and approach).

Map and then leverage your network to search for talent. It’s likely that your network is more broad and diverse than you think. Do not be afraid to seek external help from executive search professionals who will have access to talent beyond your network who can also provide an independent third party’s perspective on the Board’s needs, culture and dynamics at play.

As a Board, be clear about your collective ‘why’. Ask yourselves as an organisation, why do we exist? What mission do we seek to achieve or issue to we seek to address? And why do we need new Directors? If you are not clear about your why, you will not attract individuals who are clear about their own personal why, and as a result you will miss out on the productivity and magic that occurs when they are aligned.

The most effective boards foster a culture of respect, accountability and transparency which provide strong foundations for fierce conversations which often need to take place. This can be achieved formally and informally. To help promote this formally, publish position descriptions to ensure that Board and staff members are clear about the delineation of their roles and responsibilities.

On an informal basis, hold informal opportunities for members to understand each other’s, motivations, background, and core competencies outside of the boardroom. It is vital that Board members understand each other’s perspective and experience to improve the quality of Board communication and optimise performance. Be clear about your value proposition – what might you offer in return? This is a two way street and since most positions are not remunerated, this is especially important to consider, and the opportunity to work at the coal face might be all that is required.

Ten things your recruitment strategy should be:

  1. Representative and balanced – reflecting the needs and interests of its members/beneficiaries/community. Is your board the right composition in terms of numbers, balance and representation?
  2. Strategic – reflective of the position you are in and the strategic direction you are taking. Do the skills and networks you have support your strategy? Look at where your gaps are and seek to fill them.
  3. Capability focused – aimed at attracting and retaining/skilling-up the right mix of talent and experience to support the organisation. Look not only at the hard skills, but the additional characteristics including cultural fit, ability to influence and fundraise, approach etc.
  4. Responsive – able to plan for the future and anticipate the changing needs of your organisation and swiftly adapt to that change.
  5. Process driven – apply the rigour and discipline that you would if you were hiring your next CEO.
  6. Focused on diversity – diversity of perspectives, can make decision making more difficult at times, but is essential for growth and is of particular importance when the community served by the organisation is diverse.
  7. Proactive – nurture a pool of potential candidates in the background even when there are no vacancies.
  8. Reflective – Perform an annual board review. It does not have to be complex. A simple, confidential survey requesting feedback, and recommendations for the future would suffice giving an anonymous voice to all members.
  9. Transparent – ensure that prospective candidates are assessed against a consistent backdrop and that a clear screening and selection process is employed. Just as you would do with a prospective CEO, interrogate their interest, motivation, and understand their CV, skills and availability to do the job, conduct the appropriate checks and reference checks.
  10. Supportive – Have in place a good induction process that will ensure that new directors understand their role, the current state of play, and the challenges ahead, in addition to ongoing advice and support. Perhaps even consider an ongoing mentoring program for new, first-time directors. Remember that the very best of Boards can lose focus, forget why they exist or find themselves struggling to find talent on a tight timeframe. Board management is a continual process of renewal, reflection and review.