Effective boards work to compose a board structure that meets the needs of the work they need to do and also aligns with the organization’s mission and vision. While working on board composition, boards need to assess their existing skills and capabilities in light of the skills and abilities the board needs currently and over the next three to five years.
Boards need a host of talents including legal, marketing, fundraising, human resources, finance, IT, strategic planning, and other areas. These needs can change over time, so it’s important for boards to review their needs over time and adjust the board composition accordingly. We’ve seen this play out as cybercriminals have been on the rise and boards have needed more expertise around the issue of cybersecurity.
Best practices, and in some cases, regulations play a part in shaping board composition. An example of this is the evolution of best practices related to pressing boards to diversify their board compositions with age, gender, ethnicity, and race.
Board matrices are useful tools in helping boards identify what talents the board currently has and how to approach filling the gaps of the skills they’re lacking. While board matrices give boards a good start on the types of individuals they should be looking for to assist them with their work, boards shouldn’t rely on matrices alone to compose the most effective board of directors.
Each section of a board composition matrix should reflect what board director candidates have to offer the board, as well as specifically what boards need them to do for the organization.
It’s important for nominating committees to be cognizant that they’re not just adding board members—they’re building a team. If we use the analogy of a baseball team, it’s easy to see the importance of building an efffective board team. A baseball team needs to have a group of players where each of them brings specific talents to the team. The team needs a skilled pitcher, a good catcher, a shortstop, outfielders, and strong batters. Players need to be fast runners and they need to be able to think quickly on their feet. They also need to be able to anticipate how their teammates and their opponents respond and react. Some players will have natural talent. All players can develop their talents through training, development, and practice.
Just as a baseball coach needs to evaluate each new baseball recruit individually and how they will contribute to the team, boards need to consider the skills and abilities that an individual brings into the boardroom as an individual and as a collective part of the rest of the team.
How Board Composition Matrices Can Be Useful
A board composition matrix is a good starting point to help nominating committees fill vacant board seats with board directors that have the necessary skills to help the board meet its goals and objectives. A board composition matrix is a grid that lists the people on the board, or those who have the potential to join the board, along the rows of a grid. A list of talents and abilities comprise the headings for the top columns. Where the boxes intersect is a space where committees can check off whether that individual has that skill or talent. Committees may also choose to write notes about a particular candidate.
A board matrix is a tool that makes it easy to chart the skills, characteristics, and talents that each individual has. A matrix is effective for helping boards build a well-rounded, functional team.
In setting up a board composition matrix, nominating committees will need to consider the most appropriate criteria for categories like professional skills, resources, backgrounds, experience, demographics, networking connections, etc. Boards should consider these categories as they pertain to the board’s current needs and expectations as well as what the board will need over the next three to five years. This is an important consideration because of the fast pace and many rapid changes that are affecting organizations in this day and age.
Board matrices must include current board directors and their individual skills and talents so that committees can easily identify gaps. It can be helpful to use a sample matrix as a template and modify it according to each board’s unique needs.
Taking the Board Composition Matrix a Step Further
Boards should also consider that a board composition matrix is just one of several tools and processes that can help them build a qualified board.
It’s important for nominating committees to look beyond the matrix at the individual qualities and talents of board candidates within the context of the whole group, and as they’re related to the strategic plan and organizational goals. This means that it’s prime time to get back to basics by starting with the board’s needs and priorities and building a well-composed board around them.
Once the nominating has made some preliminary choices, boards need to consider the experience, knowledge, and perspectives of each individual as they contribute to the scope of the board’s needs. For example, if the board needs legal expertise in the area of real estate, it won’t serve them well to appoint a lawyer that specializes in criminal law or divorce to the board just because they need legal advice.
In the same way, boards should be careful about bringing individuals on board just to check the box for diversity such as age, gender, race, or ethnicity. In addition to diversity demographics, nominating committees need to be cognizant of what these individuals can contribute beyond demographics. Diversity only counts when board members are willing and able to be engaged and make their perspectives count during board discussions and debates.
Ultimately, it’s important for nominating committees to ask themselves this all-important question—will this slate of board candidates be the right people to help our organization accomplish our top three goals for the year? If there’s any doubt, the nominating committee has more work ahead of them.
Board director candidates should also be considered in light of the strategic plan. What does the board need to accomplish in the short and long-term? Will the top candidates be able to help the board meet goals and objectives?
By considering the needs of the organization, the skills and abilities of board member candidates, the diverse perspectives that various candidates bring to the board, and the actions the board needs potential candidates to take, boards will be successful in building a well-composed, well-qualified board.