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Board Recruitment and Induction

Ten arts organisations were represented at the Recruitment and Induction round-table forum, hosted by Anna Marsden, General Manager - Creative, Rowland, and co-facilitated by Kate Foy, Chair, Queensland Theatre Company, and David Fishel, Project Director, BoardConnect.

Overview of discussion

Discussion covered the advantages and disadvantages of participants’ varied experiences in relation to recruitment policies, tools and processes.  Recruiting a Chair both from within and externally to an organisation was discussed, as were various induction tools and processes.  Ongoing methods of briefing board members were also touched upon.

In her welcome, Anna Marsden highlighted the fundamental challenge of the board – namely being a group of people from a range of backgrounds with accordingly disparate views, coming together for the key purpose of leading a company in a collectively shared direction. 

Kate Foy opened the forum by describing the long range planning features of her role as a Chair of a statutory authority, subject to Ministerial board appointments.  Discussion ensued:

Before you go to market – establishing recruitment frameworks

  • Participants described various parameters used on their boards – fixed terms, limited repeat terms, minimum periods before re-nomination etc
  • Numerous participants cited movement away from CEO- or membership-driven board appointments, toward the board itself undertaking recruitment activity – the general feeling was if the right people are on the board, the CEO will not need to seek to control it
  • The board skills matrix (used to identify skill gaps in the board) should be directly linked to the strategic plan to ensure optimally strategic recruitment.  Indeed, all board discussion should be linked back to the strategic plan – Kate Foy recommends having the strategic plan document on hand for reference at all board meetings.
  • One useful exercise described by David Fishel is visualising the organisation that you hope to be, then visualising the board that will get you there – a guest speaker or a facilitated board self-evaluation may be useful catalysts for this process, depending on a board’s culture at that point of time
  • Some participants championed sponsors sitting on the board – which can lead to further sponsorship support through greater company engagement, but may also generate some conflicts of interest
  • David Fishel highlighted the value of advertising board vacancies to members, audiences and/or customers who will already have an interest in the company - and may also have the requisite skill sets

The potential recruit’s perspective

  • In his/her initial meeting with a potential recruit, the Chair should be prepared to answer questions from ‘why me?’, to details of the finances and cultural health of the organisation – board members should decide prior how much company information is provided during recruitment process
  • David Fishel described the process as two-way courting, employing numerous filters and ‘wooing’
  • A board member duty statement is a useful guide to present to potential recruits – ensuring appropriate time, interest, fundraising expectations from the start
  • It is important to manage the experience of unsuccessful recruits and departing board members, in order to ensure their commitment as a supporter of the company generally is not destroyed in the process

Succession planning

  • Kate Foy described numerous methods of developing Chairing skill and experience within the board – nominating members to Chair ten minutes of debate, encouraging members to Chair a sub-committee etc
  • If a Deputy steps up in an interim capacity, his/her acting role should be time limited to ensure recruitment does not stall
  • A general feeling is that it takes approx a year to recruit a new Chair from outside the company, so the incumbent Chair should make his/her intentions in relation to ongoing tenure clear at all times, and know the tenure intentions of all members
  • It was agreed to be valuable for immediate past Chairs to remain on board for a limited period to facilitate  smooth leadership and information transition

Induction processes

  • Induction is considered to be both a Chair/board and a management responsibility – Kate Foy outlined QTC approach of a meeting with the Chair and then spending a morning in the office
  • Anna Marsden endorsed the buddy system used in some boards, pairing new members with more experienced members
  • Other participants suggested board members having defined roles/focuses (eg. fundraising or finance), which can be both useful in terms of depth of information and focused actions, but can also cause members to ignore other important areas
  • It is also vital for new board members to experience the product and the industry
  • Kate Foy described the value of ongoing board meeting presentations by various organisational departments (eg. regional and education program briefings), though direct conversation with senior staff is not generally considered acceptable
  • An induction pack is an efficient method of outlining numerous points above, as well as articulating legal liabilities etc
  • An annual board retreat serves as a good revision tool for all board members

Three take-away resources were also provided to participants:

<Board Profiling>

<Model Board Succession Plan>

<Board member role description>