Boards oversee leadership teams - but they are also a cultural barometer of any business or charity.
What I mean by this is that, as well as setting the organisational vision and delivery of a business, Board composition is a measure of the feel of your organisation.
Perception matters. You’ll know yourself what happens when Board members are not a good fit with the culture and purpose of a business or charity. It jars.
What’s more, your mix of Directors or Trustees also sends a message externally to potential partners and collaborators.
Of course, jarring isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself. The purpose of your Board, after all, is to provide constructive challenge to received wisdom and the status quo.
But it can be organisationally debilitating when the Board members are consistently (and, in certain cases, deliberately) at odds with the organisation and its leadership.
At the other extreme, having ineffective or weak board members can lead to a host of negative outcomes, including:
Lack of oversight. Poorly formed policies and procedures go unchecked, resulting in lax standards or poor use of resources.
Low morale. Unsuitable Board members bring down SLT morale and create a sense of distrust across the organisation.
Developmental stagnation. Risk-averse board members inhibit growth by preventing changes that can lead to higher success rates.
Loss of focus. Drifting Boards cause organisations to lose sight of their mission and objectives, creating confusion and lethargy at all levels below.
How to review your Board
It can sometimes feel insurmountable to try to refresh Boards. Directors seem to be immovable - then there is the added pressure of finding replacements. But it can be achieved thoughtfully.
Of course, the best Boards and Chairs know when and how to refresh themselves by applying the same standards to themselves that they apply to their leadership teams and staff.
But it's important to be proactive in recognising when board members are no longer the right fit for an organisation and change is necessary. Organisations can do it by:
Assessing performance. Regularly audit and assess each member’s performance and contribution to the company’s success. Metrics might include attendance, sub-committee involvement, and project delivery.
Investigating gaps. If you have suspicions that something is missing then look into it further. Consider whether the make-up of your board represents the diversity of the market you serve - and whether there are the specialist skills around the table to address identified organisational weaknesses.
Communicating thoughtfully. It usually falls on the Chair to let the board member know if their actions or ideas do not align with that of the organisation. The best Chairs also provide the opportunity for Board members to address that. It’s challenging when the weak link is the Chair themselves. However, the most open-minded will be self-aware and grateful for a quiet word from fellow Directors.
Replacing effectively. As a last resort, consider replacing those who are no longer contributing positively to your business’ mission and goals. Of course, if you have an identified gap you can recruit afresh.
What to look for in Board members
When your organisation has decided to refresh its Board - or perhaps to take on your first non-executive director to take your business forward to the next stage - it becomes about recruitment.
What should you be looking for - and how should you approach it?
I look for four key things when helping leaders in the East Midlands select people to join the boards of their businesses, foundations and charities:
Expertise. Does the individual bring relevant leadership experience and knowledge, as well as an understanding of the industry and organisation?
Diversity. Consider diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, skillset, and background when selecting candidates so that you reflect the audience you serve.
Vision. Assess candidates on their strategic vision and ability to help shape the direction of the company going forward.
Commitment. Ensure that the recruitment process is rigorous. You want someone who is committed enough to your organisation’s success, has a genuine passion for its mission, and can see a route to growth. If they genuinely have this they will be prepared to be tested on it.
If you think we can help you achieve all of this then give us a call or send an email to [email protected]