Recruitment of board members
Roles and responsibilities
So far, we have covered responsibilities and eligibility of board members. But how do you recruit the right people for these critical positions? This is an important question and considerations include:
- legal and governance considerations
- preparing for the recruitment process (drafting person specification)
- recruitment methods
- managing the process
Legal and governance considerations
Subject to the governing document, the board may need to be refreshed as frequently as every year, or less so. As part of the board’s succession plan, it may be that board members are required to retire by rotation.
This enables the board to be refreshed with new ideas, experiences and thinking while retaining sufficient ‘corporate memory’.
Board members must be able and willing to provide the time and commitment necessary to fulfil the role (this may increase in times of heightened activity or difficult circumstances) and should be sufficiently competent to manage the affairs of the organisation.
It is likely that the governing document will outline the mechanisms by which new board members are appointed, the duration of their tenure (the Code for Sports Governance certainly does), and possibly how board members formally resign their position. It is therefore essential that all current board members are familiar with their governing document when thinking about recruitment, and should not appoint anyone in a manner other than provided for in the governing document.
Failure to appoint in the appropriate manner could result in the board members being in breach of their duties, and in some severe cases mean that none are legally able to make any decisions as they were not appointed correctly.
In situations where the governing document is inhibiting the organisation from attracting new board members with the requisite skills and experiences to take it forward, consideration should be given to amending the governing document in order to remove such obstacles.
Preparing for the recruitment process
Careful consideration needs to be given to the recruitment process, with preparatory work undertaken in good time to ensure the identification of the best candidates and a smooth transition for them onto the board.
It may be that the timing of the process needs to fit with particular events in the corporate calendar – such as an annual general meeting, if that is when board members are elected or formally appointed.
When considering what you are looking for in a candidate, two factors are of huge importance:
- What skills, knowledge and experience are necessary to guide the organisation through the implementation of its strategy?
- Which of these skills, knowledge and experience are currently present on the board and which need to be obtained?
Essentially, this means comparing your medium and long-term strategy with the skills base on the board. Many organisations maintain a skills register, highlighting board members’ areas of knowledge and expertise. This is generally updated annually, or when board members acquire new experience, either through their work for the organisation, training or elsewhere in their lives. Check out our tool below for an example of a skills register and how it can be used.
Once you know what you hope a new board member will bring to the organisation, you can use this to frame the role description and person specification to use throughout the recruitment process.
While the person specification used will vary according to the needs of different organisations, the following are examples of characteristics, knowledge and experience (or a commitment to gaining them) which would be useful in those seeking a place on a board:
- a high level of understanding and interest in the issues which your sport or organisation faces
- a commitment to your stated values and principles
- strong business and financial acumen
- experience of committee work
- highly developed interpersonal and communication skills
- an ability to understand complex strategic issues, critically assess, analyse and resolve difficult problems
- sound, independent judgement, courage, common sense and diplomacy
- political astuteness, with the ability to grasp relevant issues and understand relationships between interested parties
- a clear understanding, and acceptance, of the legal duties, liabilities and responsibilities that come with a place on the board
- a sound knowledge of governance issues and a commitment to implementing the highest standards of governance
- sufficient time and commitment to fulfil the role
- the ability to listen to and welcome alternative opinions and experiences flexibility in thinking
The aim of any recruitment process should be to attract the most suitable board members from a wide pool of candidates. This should cover the skills and knowledge required, a diversity of demography, experiences and personalities to provide a range of perspectives on issues to be discussed, and a reflection of the community which your organisation serves or wishes to serve.
It is not recommended that you look to fill board vacancies through word of mouth. There can be a temptation to rely on approaching people known to the organisation – perhaps from within the sport – to consider serving on the board. While this may be one way to be reasonably sure that the individual concerned will be able to fulfil the role to the requisite standard, it is no substitute for a robust recruitment process and does not demonstrate that the organisation is impartial and effective in the way it recruits. It has also been shown that word of mouth recruitment tends to result in boards that are not very diverse, and this can have an adverse impact on the quality of decision making and the overall performance of the board.
For this reason, it is a requirement of the Code for Sports Governance (2.6) that the appointment of independent non-executive directors and the chair be via an open, publicly advertised recruitment process.
There are a range of thorough and effective approaches which can be adopted, subject to your organisation’s size and resources. With a bit of innovation, these can be tailored to suit your requirements.
Let’s look at a number of these, and the advantages and disadvantages for your organisation.
Membership bodies may be required to recruit some of their board members via elections. While this should ensure a steady supply of committed individuals, it may not always attract a diverse range of candidates with the skills, experiences and expertise the board needs.
Those entitled to vote should be provided with (at least) a summary of the objective criteria and role description that have been identified as intrinsic to the success of the organisation. This enables electors to weigh the skills and experiences each candidate has against those highlighted in the skills audit. Everyone would then have as much information as possible to make an informed choice.
Some larger organisations may have an elections committee to review nomination papers to ensure that the nominee meets the person specification criteria and may interview potential candidates before finally submitting their names for formal election to the board.
In some cases, it may be that board members are elected without contest. While this does not invalidate the appointment, the organisation should review the information and communications sent to members, and the process undertaken, with a view to