Replacing or adding a board member is a time- and labor-intensive process that starts with determining the skills an organization needs. Hopefully, a board has an existing skills matrix that shows the attributes of the existing directors. From there, the board can cross-reference its obligations with the skills of current members and assess what is missing given its objectives.
Current directors are a valuable resource for recruitment. Board members should consult their networks and determine if any of their contacts would be a fit for the position. While recruitment falls under the purview of the nominating and Governance Committee, the entire board should ultimately be involved in this process to help ensure a fit. Many boards opt to hire a search firm to help fill the vacancy. A high-quality search firm executive committed to the project can use its deep network, research capabilities, and judgment to be very helpful.
Specific knowledge and experience are important for a new director. However, when vetting candidates, it’s also important to consider the “best athlete”—someone who, for broad reasons and chemistry, but not necessarily a specific skill set, would likely make a superb director. It’s well worth considering whether your board needs specific skills to execute its strategy or if it would be better off with an individual that may not have particular skills but can help broadly I generally prefer the “best athlete” approach, as a director is a “coach” not an athlete,” i.e., directors oversee the company and advise and evaluate management — they do not “run plays” or have a day-to-day role in operations.
For instance, a company may have a Chief Technology Officer but not a director with deep technical expertise. While technological savvy is valuable for a board, a company must execute well in this area through its CTO and should not think, for instance, that a director with a strong technical background can make up for a weak technology group.
Also important is overall board chemistry and alignment with the organization’s culture and goals. Provocative opinions that differ from others and are offered respectfully offer valuable perspectives for a board. However, it is important to try to come to a unanimous conclusion ultimately.
A search for a new director should be process-based—although this process can be different depending on the needs of the organization. For boards looking to recruit value-added directors, soft skills are just as important as specific skill sets. Remember, too, that new directors should offer their perspectives while also contributing to the board’s oversight of the strategy and other key responsibilities.
Jonathan F. Foster
Founder & Managing Director – Current Capital Partners LLC