Strategic Board Nomination Process

By Robert Nelson, CAE

Robert Nelson, CAE Robert Nelson, CAE
Nelson Strategic Consulting

In my article last month about alleviating Board micromanagement, although I stressed the importance of determining the root cause(s) in your specific circumstance, I shared 11 tactics that are sometimes employed to transition a Board from a micromanaging Board to a strategic thinking Board. One of those tactics focused on the nominating process and getting the right people on the Board. This article expounds on tactics and focuses on developing a strategic Board nomination process.

Does your organization take a strategic approach to Board nominations or just fill seats with known entities and those who express an interest in serving? A strategic Board nomination approach begins with the premise that nominating Board members is an on-going holistic process and not an annual event. It also recognizes that Boards must take a more active role in ensuring that the right people are on the Board.

If you think your organization’s recruitment practices could be improved, you’re not alone. Changing or improving the Board recruitment process was the third most important area identified to improve Board performance by CEO’s and Board chairs in Board Source’s 2015 Leading With Intent Board Index.

The reality is, improving Board performance starts with getting the “right people on the bus.” No longer can Boards wholly delegate the Board nominating process to nominating committees. Although members most often elect Board members, Board’s themselves must take an active role in the process of identifying, cultivating and nominating future Board members. After all, building a competent Board is a key role and responsibility of the Board of Directors; Board member recruitment is central to this responsibility.

More and more, traditional nominating committees (often comprised of non-Board members) are being replaced with Board level Governance Committees that are charged, in part, with nominating Board members. However, even if your organization has a nominating committee that is comprised of non-Board members, your Board should still play an active role in the process; again, ensuring that the right people are on the Board is a key role and responsibility of the Board itself.

Strategic Board Nomination Approach
Taking a strategic approach to Board nominations requires some foundational elements and practices, and a strategic process.

Foundational Elements/Practices
Strategic Plan: Strategically approaching Board nominations begins with having a sound strategic plan. The plan is used to identify what skill sets your organization will need on the Board.

Board Diversity Statement: There is unanimous consent in the literature that diverse Boards and work teams outperform those that lack diversity. It is important to memorialize your organization’s commitment to Board diversity by having your Board adopt a Board Profile / Diversity Statement recognizing your organization’s commitment to Board diversity.

Governance Committee: Recognizing that Boards are responsible for building competent Boards, ideally you will have a Board level committee that is responsible for nominations. Board members are best situated to know what talent is currently on the Board and what future talent needs are. This committee should also be charged with creating a process that constantly seeks to identify and cultivate future Board members, as well as ensure that a comprehensive Board orientation and training program is in place. Further, the committee should be charged with determining how the full Board can or should engage in the Board recruitment process; at a minimum, the Board as a whole should be involved in a discussion about the Board’s then current needs related to Board talent.

Candidate Attributes: The Board, prior to the nominating process, should adopt a list of attributes that candidates will be evaluated against. If you don’t already have a list of candidate attributes, consider talking with some current and recent past 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.

Board/Board Member Job Description: The job description should clearly lay out the responsibilities and expectations of Board members.

Board Self-Assessments: Board self-assessments are another important tool. The results are helpful in identifying Board strengths and weaknesses, which can inform the nominating process. Likewise, they are a great learning tool for Boards and inform ongoing Board training efforts.

Constant Search: Both Board members and the CEO should constantly be looking for great candidates and potential candidates. It is important that this ongoing search goes beyond typical circles in which the Board or governance committee members circulate.

Still have a traditional nominating committee
Even if you have a traditional nominating committee comprised of many non-Board members, the Board must still take an active role, provide direction to the committee and make sure the committee has a full understanding of the current and future needs of the Board from a Board member talent perspective. The Board should ensure that the nominating committee understands where the organization is going strategically, what candidate attributes would provide the most value to the Board at this point in time and over the next few years, the current Board strengths and weaknesses, and what gaps in Board member background/skills are needed based on a gap analysis. Ideally, the Board can provide specific profiles of the type(s) of people that are needed on the Board during any given election cycle.

Strategic Process

  1. Identify what skills and backgrounds are needed to drive the organization forward based on its strategic plan. Paint a picture of the ideal Board. List the skills and backgrounds that are on this “ideal Board.”
  2. Determine what skills and backgrounds are on the current Board.
  3. Identify the gaps.
  4. Referring to the Board Diversity / Profile statement, Board job descriptions, the strategic plan and the gap analysis (steps 1, 2 and 3 above), develop a specific candidate profile(s) for the open seats.
  5. Go out and actively recruit potential candidates that match the profile(s). Also, make sure the profiles are widely distributed to your membership.

Ideally, your Board will be thinking beyond the next year. By projecting out a few years, draft profiles can be created for future Board needs. These can be used to begin to “fill the pipe line” and develop future potential leaders.

Of course, it takes more than just getting the right people on the bus. A comprehensive orientation program is a must, as is ongoing Board training.

Robert Nelson, CAE, is the CEO of Nelson Strategic Consulting, a board consulting group that works with trade associations, professional societies, philanthropic organizations, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations. He is a frequent contributor to InView.