Over the last six months, our Associate Director and Head of Education Practice, Drew Richardson-Walsh, has presented the best way to attract talent to your non-executive board at both the Skills and Education Group and the Federation of Awarding Bodies conferences. Here he shares his top tips for recruiting brilliant leaders at this non-executive board level.
Where to start with non-executive director recruitment?
For 10 years, Peridot have been recruiting unremunerated charity trustees and governing body members of schools, colleges and universities. Why?
Because we believe non-executive appointments are equally as important as executive appointments. Leadership starts at the top; and that’s where we can have maximum impact on the long-term success of an organisation.
We’re also specialists in this type of recruitment.
As with all executive search assignments, there are those which seem to draw the crowds and applications come through in abundance. But the majority take a huge amount of time, effort, skill and persistence.
We advise our clients that at least a five-week search period is required in order to undertake a comprehensive mapping and research exercise and build a list of people and organisations we aim to target first.
Throughout this period we can contact and have discussions with hundreds upon hundreds of people – all to find one potential match.
We’re not on the hunt for just anyone, we’re only looking for people who meet our client’s brief from an experience, skills and culture-fit perspective.
You could always advertise – and we strongly recommend you do so.
If you have the time available then advertise first; as there is always the chance that someone who meets your brief is looking.
However, as colleagues and I suggested at a workshop at the recent Skills & Education Group conference, if you’re going to use advertising to attract candidates to your Board, you must consider the following:
Five tips to recruiting non-executive directors
- Really understand what your board needs and don’t replace ‘like for like’
What is your skills gap analysis based on and how have you made it relevant to your strategic needs? Avoid the recycling of old and outdated role descriptions and skills audit documents. Instead, spend time determining as a Board the types of people which will help you achieve your strategic ambitions.
- Take the process seriously
Manage your shortlisting, interviews and assessments for board appointments well. Good candidates will expect a process to be more than a few minutes on the phone and a meeting with the Chair.
Delegate the authority to one of the Board’s committees or a task and finish group; to oversee a process which is professional and builds in opportunities to undertake due diligence.
Ensure it is a competitive process and one which appoints candidates with the legitimate experience to provide support and challenge to the executive team. In addition, try to ensure your Board is representative of the communities your organisation serves, or at least aim to build in a mechanism where your Board can hear the ‘community voice’.
- Always do a bit of search yourself
It’s likely you know your patch better than we do right now, which is why we spend time understanding your communities, your region and your stakeholders.
If you have time, undertake a mapping exercise of the large employers and influencers in your region. Contact them directly with vacancy information to pass on to the people you’re hoping to attract. Remember not to be disappointed when people decline the invitation and instead focus on the continuation of your research.
- Ensure your communications are consistent, realistic and optimistic
Link to your organisational strategy, be clear about the purpose of your organisation, who the clients/students/end-users are and what your organisation aspires to do. If you want to change the world, great! Just be sure to have a plan as to how you’ll achieve it.
This is especially important for Chair, Chair of Audit/Finance Committee or roles where you are looking to attract a professionally qualified finance strategist.
You also need to make sure to include the annual report and financial statements and be prepared to have a frank discussion about the numbers if they are challenging.
- Remember, the people who apply are stakeholders in your business
Whether they are known to you or not, treat the candidates for your board roles with the respect they deserve and recognise it is okay for them to benefit from joining the board of your organisation.
If you can find other ways for candidates to be involved with you (other than joining the Board) then try to find them a route to contribute. This could be as a mentor, a strategic advisor, an Associate Board Member or a Committee Member (great for succession planning!).
Whatever the outcome, ensure they get feedback and can leave the process feeling positive about their engagement with you and wanting to share their newfound interest in your sector.
Choose your recruitment partner for NED recruitment carefully
- Many of our clients often become frustrated at the lack of response to advertising and feel they have wasted precious time and effort in managing the process themselves. If there are recruitment agencies out there offering a ‘free’ service, be wary – we employ an expert team of researchers and executive search consultants who all work tirelessly to source prospective candidates – this costs money.
- If working with an agency, always ensure you get a return on your investment and push for more than simply advertising. If they do not put forward a selection of candidates who meet your brief, they do not value the importance of governance or the important role which trustees and governors play (and I’d question if they understand the role at all).
NED Recruitment – value for money, in bucket-loads
Over the last two years, we have worked with incredible clients across the entire education and skills sectors and appointed some of the best UK talent to the boards of schools, colleges and universities.
We know how grateful our clients are for finding these candidates, and how grateful the candidates are for us approaching them in the first place.
Remember not having a strategic board is one of the biggest strategic risks to your business.
So, if you’re serious about your leadership at every level, get in touch for an informal chat.
“You feel with Peridot that they are always striving to get the best outcome, for both their clients and candidates.
Peridot have an unrivalled understanding of the post-16 education and skills sector. With them you feel that your application is being treated in more than just a perfunctory way.”
Tom Bewick, CEO, Federation of Awarding Bodies