Strategic Skills Critical When Filling Board Member Positions

By Jim Gauss

With talent in short supply, today’s executives work hard to fill open board member positions with highly strategic, broad-based thinkers. Organizations that want to position themselves for growth and competitive advantage place a high priority on key skill sets like information technology, treasury and merger-and-acquisition experience.

It wasn’t too long ago that hospitals and universities sought the chief financial officer of a local business to lead their boards’ budget discussions. Today, the focus has changed to developing and managing capital, and the people in demand are those who know how to access financial resources, develop venture capital relationships and restructure or consolidate business units.

Healthcare and insurance organizations place a premium on board members with proven clinical experience in quality measurement and performance improvement. With the constant change in services and payment methods in the healthcare sector, board members are frequently called upon to create new partnerships between care providers and insurers and to direct institutions through complex consolidation decisions. On top of that, not-for-profit hospital board members need to understand how to serve their community and keep the institution vital without compromising their tax-favored status.

Start-up businesses face their own unique challenges when seeking new directors. The founder of a business may have a great idea but lack the operational skills to build the product on a commercial scale and deliver it to market. These organizations often seek to fill open board member positions with individuals who have demonstrated the business acumen needed to guide, coach and mentor the founder through this critical business phase.

The best boards and executives understand the importance of assembling a team with talent that corresponds to the organization’s stage of development. Our team is seeing a significant increase in boards that search for people with CEO and board experience in unrelated industries. They want to bring in a proven leader with a fresh perspective on their business. These boards are willing to mentor someone in the nuances of their industry in exchange for the leadership skills that person can contribute early in his or her tenure.

The skills that executives seek when filling board member positions often necessitate searches beyond their local communities. Very few localities offer a wide variety of individuals with the diversity of experience, culture, thought, ethnicity and gender necessary to enhance a board’s decision-making capacity. Boards that are committed to finding qualified members quickly realize that they grow stronger when they look beyond their own communities for particular talents and qualities in an individual recruit.

Board composition must keep pace with the organization’s evolution and strategic focus. When done well, an organization’s investment in effective recruitment and development of great board talent pays dividends for years to come.

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