CEOs must take the lead when it comes to creating high performing boards. This includes taking a leadership role in board nominations and board development.
The process of creating a high performing board doesn’t begin with nominating amazing board candidates that intuitively think strategically and have highly developed governing skills. In fact, if your board isn’t ready for great board members it may be a mistake to try to recruit them until you further develop good governance practices. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to continually increase the quality of your board members as you work to create a great board, it just means you don’t want to prematurely introduce a star candidate to the nominating committee.
Creating a high performing board doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that often takes two to three years, minimum. Dual improvement paths are often necessary: improving governance practices and improving the good candidate pool. The first step is to assess where your board is today and how its structure and practices align (or don’t) with good governance practices. This is also a good time to access the attributes and makeup of your current board members. Once this assessment is complete, it’s a matter of the CEO creating a vision for a high performing board and a road map to get there.
Transitioning a board to a high performing entity also takes patience. It is important that you don’t get too far out in front of your board. In fact, once you have your vision you will need to consider how much of that vision that you want to share with the leadership. It is possible that your vision is so far from reality and would appear so foreign to the board that it will create resistance and slow the process down. If this is the case, only share part of your vision or a more conservative vision. You can always expand the vision you share as you progress down the path.
Next, recruit at least 10 percent of your board champions. Hopefully, your chairperson will be the chief change agent. You champions can play a dual role: providers of advice on how to best go about introducing the change and championing the change amongst other board members.
If you can’t recruit you chairperson as a robust champion, it is often very difficult to introduce the necessary change. If this is the case in your association, you may want to focus on leadership development early on in the transition. As a CEO, I found it useful to attend a program like Exceptional Boards, presented by Nancy Axelrod, with my chairperson. In the end, if you can’t get the necessary chair support, you may be better off waiting for the next chair to introduce change in a big way.
Using the input from your champions and other thought leaders, create a change strategy and a plan to transition your board to a high performing entity. An important component of this will be a robust board candidate identification and nomination process. After all, if you want to achieve your vision, you need the right people on the bus.
As CEO, you need to take an active leadership role in identifying great candidates for the board. This begins with crafting a list of board candidate attributes and a board profile statement that should be submitted to the board for approval. Then you have to make it priority to go out and find qualified candidates that you can introduce to the nominating committee.
Don’t limit your self to only considering members, look outside the membership as well. If you identify a great non-member candidate develop a strategy to recruit that person to the membership.
The fact is that as well intentioned as board members are, most often, looking for great candidates is generally not a high priority in their lives. Likewise, they rarely look outside of their immediate circles to find candidates. As a CEO, your efforts must intentionally take you outside of the “normal” circles to ensure diversity of thought on the board.
Of course, by the time you find and recruit that amazing candidate, hopefully the board will have evolved to the point where a star board member will experience value through their participation and be able to contribute to a high functioning board. Now it’s time to go out and recruit a second star candidate, while continuing to build on your robust board development program. It is a never-ending process.