The Board you have is the Board you build

February 2, 2018

I heard this saying once many years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. So many senior executives grumble about the board — whether it is the board micromanaging or the board being disengaged (see, griping follows both sides of the equation); whether the composition is too homogeneous or even (heaven forbid) the board loathes thinking about anything to do with fundraising.

While it is true that, in most cases, a Nomination Committee is the group that identifies, interviews and fills vacancies, I must stress that all of this should be done with the cooperation of the most senior staff person in the organization (usually the CEO). The time for a CEO to chime in is during this interview phase — trust your instincts! If something feels a bit off, it probably is.

So how does one go about building a board? I will tackle that specifically in another post (through a skills matrix is the short answer). But complaining about spilled milk once you have compiled your board is a waste of energy.

Very few organizations have volunteers clamoring to serve on your Board (though there are a rare few). So, in order to fill the seats, you need to solicit board members to serve. It is a bit of a selling job — you need to ‘sell’ the prospective member on your organization, while at the same time, the prospective board members need to ‘sell’ you on them. It’s very much like a job interview, but when most people are hired for a job, there is a probationary phase (it is a challenge to ‘size someone up’ in a 30-minute interview). Unfortunately, that luxury isn’t available with board members. For better or for worse, you are now ‘hitched’ for a finite term (though there are occasions when members depart mid-term).

I think that I have been pretty adept over the years at identifying the superstars (and identifying the detractors) through an employee lens. That being said, we all make mistakes — I know I certainly have. The same thought process should be applied to board members. If you knowingly put a group of ‘yes men’ together, don’t be surprised if your organization is no longer innovative. If you put a bunch of ‘mavericks’ together, don’t be surprised if you cannot get much accomplished in a happy manner. A skills matrix is purely a skills-set solution. You may also want to consider a social matrix — you will need different personality types. The key is to get all of the ingredients together in your ‘board soup’ to bring out all of the flavors.

But, in the end, what you reap is what you sow — or, in this case, the Board you have is the one you build.

Until next week.