Leah Russell – Senior Partner – Audit and Assurance
As a member of a board, and an Auditor Partner who attends numerous company board meetings as an observer, I am often asked what attributes to look for when selecting a board member.
There is no simple answer, and no “one size fits all” for entities. Each organisation needs to understand and assess the skills, experience and culture they require.
Such skills may include, but are not limited to, finance, legal, marketing, human resources, fundraising and change management. It is desirable to have a mix of skills given the different issues organisations face. Depending on complexity, two or more with the same skills are useful.
Most people immediately seek experience, and when they think of experience, they often think about years of service. But experience also includes industry, demography and gender. Often young people are not considered from the outset, but there are many young people who have the energy, passion and exposure to an industry that can add value to a board, especially for organisations working with younger people. They may just need a little mentoring to help support them in the role of a director.
Whilst skills and experience are important, I believe the overarching requirement for a director is their cultural alignment with the organisation. Cultural fit matters and without it there will be friction. In the same breath, nor does it benefit a board to be made up of purely ‘yes’ people.
It is also valuable to consider this: Is the candidate someone with a personal ethic of giving? The time requirements of a director are considerable and it is essential that they have the ability to dedicate the appropriate time. This means preparation for meetings and also being fully ‘present’ at meetings (undistracted by devices for example).
Here is a checklist of some key attributes:
- strategic thinking;
- passionate about the organisation’s cause;
- not afraid to challenge, with well-considered discussion;
- relationship builders – getting to know all board members and management;
- willing to learn;
When a board consists of culturally aligned individuals, each with the necessary skills and experience, the organisation has set a path for success.