Executives frequently worry about recruiting talented leaders and employees. If budget permits, organizations may have an entire department devoted to talent acquisition. Leadership may choose to outsource recruiting work to agencies or retained executive search firms like ours. Amidst all this, one vital position often gets overlooked: finding new members of your board. These positions can become vacant unexpectedly or planned turnover can be on the horizon. FaithSearch has found these positions can often present unique challenges. Four of FaithSearch’s senior leaders recently shared their expertise on board searches, discussing the nuances and unusual dynamics of these searches and sharing their recommendations for securing top governance talent.
1) Companies are advancing board selection strategy to focus on needed expertise areas.
“What we are seeing with our clients in recent years is that they express concern their board lacks a variety of expertise in some important areas,” said Ed Reifsnyder, Senior Vice President at FaithSearch Partners. “As such, they might intentionally restructure their board with the primary objective of creating a stronger strategic focus through bringing on board members with specific subject matter knowledge who could make informed contributions.”
“Recently, a major faith-based health system retained FaithSearch to manage the search for multiple new board members with this transformational strategic agenda,” continued Reifsnyder. “The areas the health system defined as essential additions to the board were clinical quality integration, population health, human performance, and strategic acquisition. This methodology is more sophisticated than searches for board members of past decades in which you may simply be seeking a local business or civic leader.”
2) Prime board members are often the most difficult to reach.
“We find board searches are different in several ways than executive searches,” said Ivan Bartolome, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at FaithSearch. “In a normal search, you reach out to a prospect and you have something essential to their life to discuss: a job. With board positions, you contact potential candidates with what could be considered a volunteer opportunity that comes with potentially significant time and energy demands.”
“Board prospects are often flattered to be considered for a substantive governance role in a reputable organization,” said Bartolome “But board candidates, by nature, tend to be top executives with especially busy lives. Since you are discussing a low or no-paying role, the chances are high that you will need to be more accommodating of their schedules. For large companies who seek board members from across the nation, this can be potentially complex and time-consuming.”
3) Navigating the board itself during the search process can be complex.
“When you manage the search for a board member, you can expect a lot of input from the existing board. This is unlike some other leadership searches where you may only need to involve the position’s supervisor and a few other stakeholders in the decision-making process, most of whom are often aligned on the candidate profile,” said Ed Fry, President & CEO of FaithSearch.
“When you have many talented people in the room at board gatherings, there is an art to keeping the room focused and steering the conversation so people can come to an agreement, in this case about the potential new board member,” continued Fry. “Beyond the actual meetings, you might have to navigate behind-the-scenes dynamics to develop consensus in order to move forward.”
4) Board members serve as the CEO’s boss, which presents reporting subtleties not found elsewhere in the organization chart.
“When managing a search for new board members, it is important to be alert to certain subtleties. A board is the CEO’s boss as well as a vital resource to the enterprise. Personal chemistry between the CEO and board members, as well as among board members, is vital to the future effectiveness of the board,” said Reifsnyder. “Identifying prospects who will be strong, independent contributors while at the same time playing nice with others is critical. Prospects also need to possess a certain kind of savvy that has come from successfully navigating complexity in multiple contexts.”
5) Board positions might come with requirements that are tough to “sell.”
“When we do board sourcing for nonprofits, sometimes the position comes with caveats that you would never see with an employment position,” said Greg Barnes, FaithSearch’s Vice Chairman and President of the Mission Enterprise Division. “For example, sometimes each board member is required to donate a certain amount to the nonprofit each year. While on the surface this may seem like a hurdle to getting board candidates to accept the opportunity, its advantage is exposing those who are driven more so by resume-building and less so by a personal calling.”
“When organizations have these board requirements, like being a financial supporter of the ministry, attending events, or introducing potential future board prospects, they should be clearly stated and communicated throughout the recruitment process,” continued Barnes. “Having standards for board membership is one effective way to help preserve the values, mission, and purpose of the organization inter-generationally.”
If you are interested in learning more about FaithSearch’s board search services or other executive search services, please contact Ed Fry at firstname.lastname@example.org or Greg Barnes at email@example.com.