MAR 27, 2017
Sizing-up your Board candidates to ensure a team that gets things done
"I recently approached a few people to join the board in my company..." This is a comment I hear countless times over the course of a month in my travels. On one hand, this makes me happy that more business owners are making the leap into deeper governance and strategy for their businesses. Clearly, a noble endeavor. On the other hand, I am typically scared to ask my usual questions to size-up the 'discipline' being put into the Board build exercises. Are potential candidates simply being approached because of their success in the past or because they have a certain level of experience? There needs to be much more to this picture...
Remember, building a Board for your company is not a task, but a discipline
I have found over the years that my path of questions in any interview I conduct, including for Board candidates, follows the same pattern that truly leads us both on an interesting journey, aptly called my 'Career Trifecta.' The journey first starts with understanding the candidate's level of Skill (know-how), which for me equates to their level of knowledge and the theory application of that knowledge. I truly want to get a feeling of how the candidate thinks, some of it hopefully aligning to common industry practices, some of it hopefully bringing to the table a new or interesting approach to explore. Thought leadership is important. As valuable as Skill can be, it of course only tells a portion of the story. I then move to questions that put a spotlight on how those Skills have been applied - which illuminates their Expertise (experience). I want to get a feeling for their ability to do something well, see how they have applied their Skill and made a difference through their experiences. Remember that there are plenty of people with high Skill and not a lot of Expertise, which from a Board candidate standpoint can be debilitating. And the last area to close my loop of understanding is the candidate's Certifications, or proof, of their Skill and Expertise. A visual from my 2017 National Speaking Tour showing the simple, yet succinct, Career Trifecta is above.
The topic of Certification (proof) in the Board space typically elicits a scrunched-up face that either questions the comment or is not in agreement. I understand this reaction, but I have a reason for making my statement - and it is a main differentiator when it comes to candidates in all levels of their career, especially in the Board space. Old-school Board thinking is that Expertise (experience) sits at the top of the mountain when it comes to Board Member usefulness and effectiveness. Yes, Expertise is very important, but again, I view it as equally important across all three areas of the Career Trifecta. A Certification (proof) is not just a way of understanding someone's formal knowledge as it applies to an industry and vertical, but possibly more importantly a way to size-up the dedication and drive that candidate has to their particular discipline. A serious Board member wants as many chances as possible to show that Board Directorship is their career, their passion, their discipline. Not a part-time, fleeting experiment to see how it goes (by the way, "seeing how it goes" = damage to your company). A certification shows me that effort and thought was put into themselves and their career. They take it seriously. They want to make a positive impact.
(Now, before comments come back to me through email, etc. on the fact that a "certification doesn't prove everything about a candidate's worth, ethics, effectiveness, etc." - I get it. And I agree. I, too, know folks with some pretty high-ranking certifications that I wouldn't trust to paint a room in my house. The point is that a certification allows for another step-up in your evaluation of a great Board member that takes their role seriously enough to invest in it. Add this as an additional decision point)
Examples of Board Director certifications can be seen through The American College of Corporate Directors (ACCD) and The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). I have also found certification courses such as Harvard Business School's Executive Education Program 'Making Corporate Boards More Effective' to be quite enlightening and useful.
What will you consider when building or evaluating your Board?
About the Author: In addition to sitting on numerous boards, Mark A. Pfister is a certified board director and advises public, private and non-profit boards in efficient and effective operations. He is the inventor of the 'Board as a Service' (BaaS) engagement model and an expert project/program manager frequently consulting on strategic global initiatives in their initiation and operational phases................ Read full bio here...