How to Grow an Award Winning Board

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APPOINTING EFFECTIVE COMMITTEES is invariably among the most time consuming projects awaiting a newly elected board president. The quality of the board’s committees will have much to do with the quality of the board’s decisions, thus the importance of this task will always justify the amount of time required.

The president (or board chairperson) has the responsibility to make these committee appointments. However, the full board will usually wish to approve at least all of the committee chair appointments and, possibly, all of the other committee member appointments as well. This is proper, for if the board is to have confidence in its committees, the board ought to have a hand in the appointment process. But the president must play the lead role.

This process begins with a survey of the standing committees, as well as of any continuing ad hoc committees, by the newly (or about to be) elected board president. This should be coupled with a review of what is likely to lie ahead for each committee over the next twelve months. Next, the president must review all of the people available for committee service, both from on as well as from off the board and include in this survey a critical evaluation of the performance of each of these people in their past assignments. It would be well if, before this process begins, a survey be taken of all of those available for committee service seeking the committee preferences of each. This is usually best done on behalf of the new president by the old president shortly before the end of the preceding year. The preferences of newly elected board members may be determined immediately upon their election. The data from these surveys in hand, the new president will now set out to determine who are likely to be the best choices to chair each of the standing committees.

The first consideration, of course, is who is best suited by dint of talent or other characteristics to chair each committee. A primary characteristic of any committee chairperson is the need to be well organized – and its lack can be disastrous to a committee. For this reason, the person who is an acknowledged expert in a particular field may not always be the best choice to chair a committee operating in that field. Example: a highly creative person in the public relations field might lack the personal organization necessary to chair the public relations committee and therefore would be better placed as a member of that committee.

Another concern, which crops up occasionally when appointing committee chairs is the need to keep an important member of the board who is stepping down due to rotation allied with the board at a high level. If this person’s talents are congenial to one of the board’s committees, this person might be appointed chair of that committee and thus continue working with the board (though, of course, not as a voting member) during the usual one year off the board. This should only be done in very selective circumstances – not as a means to keep the same old group running the show year in and year out!

In making committee chair as well as committee member appointments, the president will be well advised to not simply repeat the same people in the same assignments year after year. Committee service is an important part of any leadership development activity and it is important that board members, especially, experience a variety of responsibilities. In this way are future board presidents developed and trained.

Finally, once an individual has agreed to serve as chair of a certain committee, this person should be asked by the board president as to his or her preferences with respect to other committee members. However, the president must reserve the final judgment, as it is one of the president’s most important tasks to see to it that each board committee receives its fair and appropriate share of the available talent.

This may sound harsh, but, a person who would be president, who is not willing to take this occasionally onerous task seriously and devote the time to it that is inevitably required, is not worthy of being president. As the saying goes, the task goes with the turf. Properly done and with the necessary attention, however, a stronger, more effective board will result. And that is the whole point.

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