The right balance of skills and experience on the board

A common pressure facing companies of all sizes is the need to identify and attract talented directors with the knowledge, skills, experience and drive to help set a sustainable strategic direction for the organisation moving forward. It can be particularly problematic when the economic climate is challenging because commercially –savvy individuals with proven track records tend to stay put if their positions are safe; indeed for many , job security becomes a top priority.

Any company seeking fresh executive blood will be doing so because they have skills gaps at the top of the organisation which they need to plug in order to rebalance the board. Skills which will be most valuable to them, however, may not be immediately obvious.

All directors must be able to apply clear an independent thought to the challenges they face, avoiding where possible the perils and limitations inherent in ‘group think’ that may mean decisions are insufficiently thought through. This requirement underpins the argument for encouraging boardroom diversity in areas such as directors’ gender, ages or backgrounds, although many organisations remain fairly conservative in their board-level appointments, which unfortunately can lead to a very homogenous group.

Supporting board level diversity can start close to home with a review of succession planning and talent spotting in-house. For example, female executives may not necessarily realise that they have skills and experience which would qualify them for the position. In this instance mentoring talented senior women could help them realise the difference they could make to the fortunes of their business if they were to put themselves forward for board positions.
One way to appreciate how your board might operate better and/or might benefit from particular skills or experience is through conducting a board evaluation. This cannot only identify what the board is doing well and target areas for improvement, but also serve to identify gaps in the board’s knowledge when looking to expand or refresh the board. Bringing in independent boardroom specialist with the ability to facilitate an overhaul of board process and flush out inappropriate and destructive behaviour may be more effective than making another board appointment, either in an executive or non-executive capacity.

The key to success is to review carefully what talent already exists in the organisation, what gaps there are currently in the combined skills portfolio of the top team and to analyze what problems are currently occurring, before attempting to find a solution.

Organisations looking to fill identifiable skills gaps in their senior team should pay close attention to director development. Not only could training solve issues in terms of board effectiveness but specifically tailored training can increase an organisation’s appeal as an employer to top talent.

Qualifications such as Chartered Director may be all that is needed to strengthen a board. It will provide confidence to individuals about to take up board positions for the first time who want to avoid making a fool of themselves in the board room. Tapping into this type of program may also give an organisation access to seasoned executive directors, who are using the program to update their knowledge and refresh their skills, either to equip themselves and their board to operate more efficiently or to make a career move into non-executive director positions.