CEO Board Recruitment Responsibilities

By Robert Nelson

Although the ultimate responsibility for board recruitment should fall on the shoulders of the board itself, CEOs can and must take a proactive leadership role to ensure an organization is recruiting the best possible people for its board. A CEO’s recruitment responsibilities range from ensuring that a vibrant and effective nomination/selection process is in effect to identifying potential candidate prospects to creating a governing environment that is attractive to great candidates.

With today’s rapidly changing, competitive environment and increasing scrutiny, organizations are under pressure to engage in high performance governance. This begins with getting the right people on the bus. At the same time, volunteer board members are stretched thin and have many other priorities that compete for their limited time. This demands that CEOs step up and take a leadership role in board recruitment.

Today’s environment also demands that organizations take a strategic approach to board recruitment. Long gone are the days when it worked to recruit someone simply because he or she was known or suggested by a board member. In today’s world competency based boards are what give organizations the upper edge.

So how can a CEO pro-actively engage in board member recruitment without creating a conflict of interest or usurping the authority of the board?

Ensuring That A Sound Nominating Process Is In Place

Many organizations use a non-board nominating committee to nominate candidates. Consider taking a more holistic approach by using a governance committee, made up of board members, as your nominating committee. Who knows better than the current board what skill sets are needed and will be needed over the next few years? As a CEO, it's your responsibility to stay current on the latest developments and nominating processes / systems and introduce these concepts to the board for a full and complete dialogue, and consideration.

If you don’t have a clear set of attributes against which to evaluate prospective candidates, one should be developed. In drafting the attributes, you might consider talking with some current board members to get their input on what attributes they think are most critical. Another approach would be to engage your board in a small group exercise and let the groups develop a draft list of attributes.

Likewise, it is the CEO’s responsibility to write draft job descriptions for the board, which the board can ultimately adopt. Written job descriptions are a useful tool to keep the selection process focused on finding talent that meets the organization’s needs and serve as an aid when clearly communicating expectations to prospective candidates.

A separate document that delineates all of the organizations expectations for board members should also be created. This is extremely useful to screen potential candidates. It is imperative that the organization is up front and transparent about the specific expectations and that prospective candidates are approached in a manner that makes it clear they have an option to not be considered or accept a nomination. In creating your expectations document, you might consider foundational expectations and additional expectations that address current specific needs of the board. Again, this is an opportunity to seek input to gain board member perspective and ultimately the board should approve the final list of expectations.

CEOs are also perfectly situated to conduct a gap analysis. Prior to the beginning of the nominating process a CEO should conduct a gap analysis that contrasts the current make up of the board with what might be considered the ideal board make up, based on the current realities of the environment, the strategic direction of the organization, and significant opportunities or challenges the board/organization will be facing over the next few years. The identified gaps can inform the candidate selection process. With a comprehensive gap analysis in hand, it is a matter of board members proactively identifying, cultivating and recruiting the best possible cadre of candidates for the job at hand.

As part of the quest for increasing diversity of thought on the board, CEOs can act as catalysts for encouraging the identification of board candidate prospects that fall outside of the typical circles in which the board or governance committee members operate. In part, this begins with creating valuable experiences for new and fresh people to engage or interact with current leadership in the creation of member value. This can be accomplished, for example, by expanding the breadth and diversity of participants at a strategy development think tank or by engaging in grand challenge strategy development.

Governance Training: Building High Performing Boards

Great boards are primed for attracting great candidates. On the other hand, it becomes a challenge to attract the interest and retain the high quality involvement of great board members, if the board experience doesn’t raise to the level expected from a high performing governing body. CEOs have a responsibility to ensure that board members are provided with development opportunities to improve their governing skills.

Board training might start with a comprehensive orientation program, but it shouldn’t stop there. CEO’s have a responsibility to their organizations and boards to provide board ongoing development programs. Some boards have the luxury of holding a board retreat each year, others don’t. However, you don’t have to rely on a retreat to provide governance training and, even if you do, your training shouldn’t stop there. In fact, every board meeting can be considered an opportunity to provide some type of learning experience.

One area often overlooked in board development programs is training on diversity and inclusion. If your organization is making a concerted effort to increase the diversity of your board, it is critical that all of your board members understand the principals of inclusion as well. After all, the tremendous benefits of diversity aren’t fully realized unless the environment is truly inclusive.

Some CEOs believe it is improper for CEOs to identify board candidate prospects. What’s your opinion?

Robert Nelson, a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and principal of Nelson Strategic Consulting, brings over a quarter-century of successful executive leadership experience, working with Boards and high-powered CEOs in a not-for-profit setting.