Standards and expectations of voluntary boards
Getting the ‘right’ people on sector boards is a common challenge.
Many directors consider themselves ‘just’ volunteers and are reluctant to accept the high performance standards needed to perform their roles well.
The increased demand for accountability, from the community and under law, and effective performance, from funders, sponsors and the community, means ‘second best’ in governance effectiveness is unacceptable.
Professionalism is an attitude, not a question of whether or not you are being paid.
Getting governance structures in good shape
Many organisations have evolved governance structures that encourage practices inconsistent with effective governance and leadership. This has weakened many an organisation’s performance.
No structure is perfect and each organisation should consider what its unique challenges are and ensure its governance structure supports effective governance and leadership.
The critical issue is to ensure accountabilities are clear, expressed upfront and that each organisation gives itself the best possible chance of electing or appointing (and retaining) people who can contribute to a high performing board.
Many sports organisations have a number of independent, directly appointed directors. This increases the depth and diversity of talent around the table, and attracts some people who may not wish to go through the organisation’s electoral processes.
Getting the right people on board
Many boards acknowledge the growing expectations on them and that they are working to achieve higher standards. A key aspect of governance effectiveness is finding people who understand the nature of the board role and can effectively contribute to that role.
Ideally, every organisation will have a process for ensuring its board has relevant skills and experience.
Previous success in other fields or in other organisational roles is no guarantee of governance effectiveness.
Key governance skills
- Strategic thinking
- Financial management skills
- Stakeholder-centric focus
- Knowledge of the business
- Commitment to the mission and values
- Interpersonal skills
- Commitment to teamwork
- High standard of ethics
- Independence of thought
- Sense of humour
Succession and recruitment
A balance is needed between members with operational experience and those with the ability to operate at a conceptual level. Organisations attract passionate people deeply schooled in the organisation’s activities, but there is also a critical need to attract board members who can stand back from the organisation and exercise a degree of detachment and objectivity.
Phase One: Needs assessment
Many of these items are ongoing and should simply need review.
- Confirm the number of director positions to be filled (Month 1).
- Confirm the board’s role, structure and work programme (Month 2/3). This may require consultation with members, funders, sponsors or other interested parties. The board should identify the key strategic challenges facing the organisation over the next three to five years.
- Create a ‘needs matrix’ (Month 2/3). Invite existing directors to comment on the skills, experience and attributes they feel the board as a whole needs.
- Finalise a recruitment profile for each available position (Month 3).
Even in an electoral process the board must communicate the challenges and needs of the organisation clearly and in advance.
Electors often look for information to help them make an informed choice. The election process will be diminished in value if there is any sense it is prompted by self-interest or a desire to stack the board.
It is essential to attract board members who can stand back from the organisation and exercise a degree of detachment and objectivity.
Phase Two: Recruitment
Identify suitable candidates (Month 3/4).
Shortlist potential directors (Month 4).
Make the final selection (Month 5).
Finalise the appointment and conduct orientation (Month 5).
Candidates must be clear about the challenges facing the organisation and the contribution they are expected to make to the organisation.
A lack of clarity about expectations at this stage may lead to patchy performance among directors. It is better that someone makes it clear now that they cannot commit the time and energy.
Expectations will include time, codes of behaviours, and approaches to assessment, development and accountability.
Phase Three: Succession planning
- Review the board’s performance and composition.
- Maintain the needs matrix and a current director profile.
- Maintain a list of prospective directors.
Informal chairs’ groups or advisory boards are a good way of drawing potential directors closer to the organisation.