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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Recruiting's Red Flags
What should we watch for when recruiting new board members?

The question of what to look for in new board members depends a great deal on what the board sees as its job. Which red flags to watch out for is similarly dependent on what the board job is.

But generally speaking I’d be wary of a potential recruit who:

  • Thinks of a board position as permission to control some aspect or department of staff operations, either individually or through committee membership.

  • Sees the board as an opportunity to wield personal power or attain social status.

  • Is motivated by a single agenda – whether his own or that of a pressure group – instead of broad representation of all “owners.”

  • Considers attendance at board meetings to be more or less optional, since it’s unpaid.

  • Sees the board as a collection of advisors rather than as a group burdened with the challenge of hard decisions.

  • Can make decisions as an individual, but is a fish out of water when called upon to participate assertively in group decisions.

  • Is too timid or reluctant to make hard judgments about performance when needed.

  • Is unwilling to play by the group-imposed “rules of the game,” particularly in terms of judging staff performance only on criteria the board has agreed on.

  • Is not at least as intelligent and savvy as the staff.

  • Is a disgruntled former staff member.

Meeting Preparation

What is the Carver formula for getting board members to adequately prepare for meetings?

I don’t have a formula, but I'm aware that lack of preparation is a common problem  impeding good governance. Here are a few steps that can be taken, but they work only if board members as a group have the will to take them.

  • Both board and staff must recognize that it's the board's responsibility to come prepared. The common mistake of holding the staff responsible for board behavior sets the stage for boards to default on their jobs.

  • The board should avoid clutter. It is fairly common for boards to import unnecessary management material into their meetings, making preparation needlessly burdensome. Why make a hard task even harder?

  • The preparatory material should be only what is required for good governance, not a treatise detailing everything the staff has been engaged in. The proper board would have taken this matter into its own hands already, but if it hasn’t then an extra effort is needed to streamline the matters upon which preparation is needed.

  • The board must write and accept a code of conduct that includes, along with the usual conflict of interest material, the obligation of each board member to be prepared. There is value in discussing this issue, writing it down, and accepting the obligation on the record.

  • Of course, having written something down isn't quite enough. So as part of a broader self-evaluation practice, the board must review whether it’s fulfilling the preparation commitment. This can be pointedly aimed at individuals if the will to do that exists, but it has an effect even if the issue is discussed only as a group problem.

  • When recruiting, you must make it clear to new members that simply keeping one’s seat warm doesn't satisfy the board member's commitment. When board members join the board with full disclosure of what is required, they’sre more likely to perform appropriately.

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