Advisory boards and board of directors act as strategy consultants to your company. Both boards advise upon higher-level decisions, but it is the board of directors who actually have the power to vote on strategic decisions and guide the top leadership, particularly the CEO.
Board members are normally recruited from organizations within the same industry or from parallel companies, which have already achieved what you are aiming for. Companies look for board members who have experience in achieving the company’s current milestones with success. Because if they’ve done it before, they can do it again.
Hiring inexperienced board members.
As important as it is for board members to have extensive experience, it is not necessary. Sometimes bringing in inexperienced board members can be a breath of fresh air, with their outside perspective and innovative thinking. Because of their little experience, their way of thinking and rationalizing is not conformed to any style and they tend to have an independent way of analyzing situations.
Jeff Thompson has served on the board of directors at Edelbrock Corporation for 10 years. He was also a member of the executive, compensation and audit committees. His advice is that businesses should give an opportunity to new people to serve on boards. “They may not have the experience, but you find sharp, intelligent people with a pragmatic business mind,” says Jeff.
Inexperienced Board Members: Independent Feedback
Jeff recommends having a mix of experienced board members with some inexperienced individuals. The latter should be groomed and given guidance through the process and imparted with some experience of a seasoned member. It’s important they quickly become familiarized with the company’s strategic plans and objectives.
He believes it’s good to have somebody on your advisory board or board of directors with little experience because “they aren’t set in their old ways so they feel free to give you their independent feedback.”
Inexperienced Board Members: Family Owned Businesses
Ginger Silverman has also served on advisory boards and boards of directors for private, public and non-profit companies including Norco Delivery Services, IVIU technologies, Cutagenesis, Oroscience, and Susan G Komen.
Ginger has done a lot of work with family owned businesses and has developed advisory boards for them. In her experience, it is surprising to note that many of these businesses don’t know how to run a board meeting on their own. Although a member of the board, Ginger often finds herself stepping up and also acting as the meeting facilitator. Ginger said, “I run into that a lot with these wonderful family businesses but they have to learn how to manage themselves within meetings, much less an entire advisory board.”
She finds that people aren’t familiar with the Robert’s Rules of Order – a book written by Brig. Gen. Henry Martyn Robert, which is the recognized guide to running meetings and conferences effectively and fairly. For those who don’t know the first thing about running meetings, this book can provide helpful guidelines.
Give Guidelines and Feedback
When talking about adding new people with no prior board experience, Ginger said, “It’s really important to give them a starter kit. They need guidelines with some very clear instructions as to the purpose of the board.” The new board inductee needs to understand that board meetings aren’t just a discussion on sales, employees or growth. But rather, all discussions are centered on the company’s objectives and the meetings are very strategic in nature. She believes that if a person is willing to learn the process and participate, they could increase the effectiveness of the board.
To help an inexperienced board member grow into a good strategic member of the board, give them feedback. According to Ginger, “You need to be able to give them immediate feedback so they can learn.” This way a new, unsure board member will know what he is doing right, and what he is doing wrong, and will quickly understand the process. As experts say, you learn better by doing.
A good board has a mix of experiences and skills. As important as the hard skills, like specific industrial experience and knowledge, they are not the only skills you should be searching for. Soft skills like interpersonal and communication are equally important, as they can make or break a board discussion. Outside directors help bridge the gap between insiders and outside professionals like financial experts and attorneys, and bring an independent voice to the table.
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