Two Key Practices for Selecting Successful Boards

Board Selection January 8, 2020 By: Keith Skillman, CAE

Executive satisfaction with board performance is moderate, suggests a recent ASAE Research Foundation study. Raising the bar begins with ascertaining competencies and incorporating senior staff input into board-composition processes.

Association boards are best at working well together and providing financial oversight, according to association executive participants in an ASAE Research Foundation study published in August 2019. However, their boards do less well at recruiting new board members and improving board diversity.

Among other areas of exploration, the foundation’s Board Member Competencies and Selection Study measured board performance of eight activities. Survey respondents scored their boards at an average of 4.1 on a five-point scale for working well together and 3.8 for providing financial oversight. They rated their boards an average of 2.7 and 2.5, respectively, for recruiting new board members and increasing the diversity of the board. The other four performance metrics were monitoring organizational performance, providing guidance and support to the chief executive, understanding the board’s roles and responsibilities, and spending time on strategic issues.

The research shows moderate association executive satisfaction with the performance of board members and boards of directors. On a five-point scale, respondents rated their satisfaction with board performance at an average of 3.7, with executives at trade associations scoring their boards slightly higher than those at professional associations (3.5 versus 3.3). Moreover, only 45 percent of respondents think their board members come to meetings prepared, and 55 percent agree their board members have the requisite experience and background for the job.

Two Critical Steps

How can association leaders push board performance and executive satisfaction higher? Invest in a deliberate identification, recruitment, and selection process that strategically considers what is required for board and board member success.

Researchers Mark Engle, FASAE, CAE, of Association Management Center, and William Brown, of Texas A&M University, outlined an eight-step nomination and selection process. Of those steps, two practices are most critical to board and board member performance: taking board skills and competencies into account and involving executive staff.

45% Percentage of executives who consider their board members prepared for board meetings

“Ascertaining competencies and skills for board members is the most influential and effective step to practice for better board member performance,” Engle and Brown write. “This step also plays an important role in promoting performance of the board of directors as a unit.” Only 52 percent of participating associations identify the skills and competencies needed either to some extent or to a great extent as part of their selection process.

In associations where executive staff provide input about candidates for the board, the likelihood of better board performance is higher. Just more than half (51 percent) of respondents indicated that executive staff input is sought as part of the identification and selection process.

In addition to the survey, Engle and Brown conducted extensive interviews, resulting in the identification of cross-cutting themes in nomination, recruitment, and selection practices, as well as case studies and a collection of practical resources available in Recruit the Right Board: Proven Processes for Selecting Critical Competencies.

Keith Skillman, CAE

Keith Skillman, CAE, based in Lawrence, Kansas, writes about associations and their work.