How to Recruit a Rockstar Board of Directors
December, 2020 | Katie Appold, MPA
The turn of the year may be bringing the turnover of term limits on your board of directors. This can be an exciting time to refresh and re-engage your board, especially if you have members who have served long terms or successive terms. It can also be challenging. Like walking into the grocery store hungry, if you go looking for board members without a plan and an inventory of what you have and what you need, you will likely not make the best decisions. While an extra bag of chips is far less detrimental in the long run, I hope you understand the analogy.
I know him well. He goes to my church and he’s a good guy
We have so many legal questions…Does anyone know an attorney?
Who do we know that would be willing to help with fundraising?
All statements commonly heard in the boardroom when recruiting new members.
So often, when recruiting directors, the focus is placed exclusively on recruiting for skill gaps, i.e., legal or accounting expertise, selecting from internal networks, or targeting resources. While none of these angles are wrong, they are narrow and short-sighted. Last week, I shared a Board Recruitment Inventory on our member page which can help identify gaps in skills and traits on your existing board as well as take inventory of a candidate’s ability to meet those gaps. Those are quantifiable hard skills or known attributes. Below are tips to recruit for the less definable “X-factors” that will help you to build a board that understands and grows your brand.
Know Your Brand > Who You know
Is your organization bold? Aggressive? Conservative? Check out these personality archetypes for household brands from Lean Labs below, also check out their brand identity survey.
APPLE – Rebel
TACO BELL – Jester
REI – Outdoors-lover
TARGET – Bold
SUBWAY – Optimist
WHOLE FOODS – Peace Lover
Let’s assume for a moment that your organization desperately needs help with financial oversight. Your board members decide to recruit a CPA that several of them know/have worked with. She’s a dynamo with a spreadsheet, but extremely conservative and tends to pull all conversations into her area of expertise. New ideas are stopped cold if they’re not in the budget and high-risk opportunities inspire her to raise her voice. Let’s also assume your organization is known for Apple-esque rebellion, forward-thinking, and style. You may have checked the box of “financial experience,” but have you welcomed a war every time the marketing budget is brought up?
We tend to default toward what is easiest in the short-term. Although sourcing board members from your network is a valid option, it should take a backseat to finding and selecting board members who are a cultural fit. Knowing your own brand identity and communicating it effectively to prospective board members is critical to building unity.
Humble, hungry, and smart.
Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player is one of the best lenses I’ve seen for identifying fit and future trouble when building a team. We all want smart, humble, and hungry board members, but we don’t want the extreme in any of those attributes.
The “charmer” who dazzles and sways other members but is unwilling to tap his/her network for support or show up, will ultimately lead to dissension.
The “bulldozer” who loves the sound of his/her own voice more than the mission will likely distract and cause really long board meetings.
As important as humility is, you don’t want a “pawn” who will not challenge the organization or uphold good governance decisions.
Rather than “Ideal Team Player,” I wonder if the center of this diagram should show a photo of a unicorn. The reality is that no one fits this ideal…if they claim to, they’re likely residing in the way south sphere. If you have several humble members, recruiting those that are hungrier or smart may provide balance. The adverse is true if you have several charmers. Aim for balance among all of your members.
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos
Bezos’ wisdom defines the importance of building a board that reflects and builds your brand. An ideal board serves as a group of ambassadors as much as they do governors. What do you want people to say about your highest level of leadership?
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