Assembling the right board members who can drive strategy, guide executives, collaborate effectively and understand company culture is both an art and a science. A high-performance board can broaden perspectives, identify obstacles and opportunities, and maintain a clear-eyed, disciplined focus on the future. We live in an era of profound societal transformation. Boards need to situate complicated choices in their real-world contexts and evaluate them carefully to avoid making myopic decisions. The rapid and relentless pace of change in the modern business landscape necessitates board members to treat the work of foresight as a consistent practice.
Additionally, the board should be comprised of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, not just people who are familiar with the business. A mix of voices that represent diverse abilities and aptitudes will help the board to have frank discussions and avoid group-think. The board should reflect the range of stakeholders and limit the number of insiders and key managers in the boardroom.
Industry expertise is an important attribute for board members because it equips them with a deeper understanding of risks and opportunities in a specific industry as well as knowledge of industry players and regulatory frameworks. In seeking industry experience for your board, remember to look upstream and downstream from your place in the supply chain and related industries.
Avoid the trap of choosing a board member simply because he or she is a friend or family member. Pick directors who have a track record showcasing business acumen and the ability to make sound decisions. Additionally, avoid recruiting ‘rookie’ directors who will have a steep learning curve to tackle. If you recruit a director with limited board experience but who brings a valuable skill set to the table, ask them to attend a board readiness training program. This will speed up their progress and help them to acclimate to the role quickly.
Pick people with the skill-sets that align with the direction the company is heading in. For example, if digital transformation is one of the organization’s key objectives for the next five years, a director who has a wealth of knowledge in this area will be an asset. Specialists bring depth and deep expertise to the table. Generalists or transdisciplinary individuals can also add value and add to the diversity of perspectives.
Board members with strong networks can also be very influential. Directors who can leverage their networks to gain access to resources or form strategic collaborations will contribute to a company’s success. Some directors are appointed because their business or government contacts are vital to an organization.
Directors can also further the organization’s objectives by developing a series of strategic contacts/networks outside the organization. Every director should add functional literacy in the business issues facing your business. Directors with legal, marketing, fundraising skills or financial management skills can mentor Executives in the business if they are weak in these areas. If your company needs financing, a board member with contacts and experience raising money will add value.
It is important to have people who challenge assumptions and help to build a questioning culture. The word ‘contrarian’ derives from the Greek and characterizes an individual “who habitually opposes or rejects prevailing opinions or established practices.” A contrarian will prevent groupthink and rubber-stamping of management decisions by an overly collegial board. A group of ‘yes men’ are not helpful in setting business strategy and direction.
Embracing diversity in all its forms will help to realize the full potential of the board. The goal of board diversity is to cultivate a wide range of demographic factors in the boardroom. Gender diversity is only one facet of board diversity. Age, ethnic background, educational background, and professional qualifications are other aspects to consider. Multiple-perspective analysis of problems can change boardroom dynamics and promote better decision making. A balanced board will also ensure that users and customers of its products are represented. For example, multinational companies may want to include foreign nationals on their boards.
Finally, choose directors who are enthusiastic about the organization and its mission. People who feel obligated to accept a board seat will find it difficult to sustain interest and enthusiasm when the going gets tough. A strong work ethic and a positive attitude can sometimes trump vast amounts of experience. Your board members are ambassadors and advocates within the community. Passion is contagious and can act as a catalyst for success. Exceptional board members will act as expert contributors, mission evangelists and reputation builders. They will serve with diligence and perseverance and be able to survive adversity. The key to a successful company is the team that drives it forward. Choose wisely.
Article by Shailja Sharma, Leadership and Career Coach and SBS Faculty Member
Would you like to share an article? Write to us email@example.com