How to hire your ideal board

Finding and retaining talent is a major source of CEO frustration in the Middle East. We guide you through the ins and outs of hiring and then holding onto your ideal boardroom team to achieve all the goals you have set out in business

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By  Karen Oliver Published  August 6, 2006

|~||~||~|The title ‘board of directors’ has several meanings to decision makers across the region and the plethora of terms used to describe executive positions within organisations makes it increasingly difficult to know, without reference to a structural chart, what different roles actually do. An increase in public ownership has also created a separation between ownership and the management of an organisation. In this situation a board of directors, or governors, is elected by shareholders to monitor the managers of the corporation, acting as an advocate for stockholders — in essence, making sure that their interests are looked after. In other organisations the term is used to describe the executive management team who report to the chief executive and who are responsible for the day-to-day operations and profitability of the business. Some standardisation in the range of definition is likely to occur as a result of IPOs in the region. Clearly the implication for recruitment and selection of board members depends on the target role. For the purpose of this article greater emphasis is placed on hiring the decision makers responsible for the daily running of the organisation, referred to as the ‘executive board’, with recommendations to ensure that the hiring decisions made are the right ones. CLARIFY THE SKILLS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR You can’t find the right people to lead your organisation unless you know what you are looking for. Take the time to consider the criteria for selecting executive board members, not only qualifications but also the specific skills required to lead the business. For example heading a major initiative in cost reduction will demand different skills from those needed to lead expansion in an emerging market. CEO Middle East spoke to one business (that asked to remain anonymous) that shared its experience of learning the hard way. A spokesman said that companies need to consider “additional factors” that help the executive board function better, such as team players who work well in a group and who are willing to commit time for board meetings and special events. For new companies hiring executive board members for the first time, executive search firm Spengler Fox recommends taking time out to consider a number of factors, including a combination of job analysis and discussions with key stakeholders to identify and articulate requirements and profile the target candidate. Helen Ekendahl, business development director at Spengler Fox says other aspects not covered in the job description are often key. “We are frequently asked to provide candidates who build credibility, are transparent and have the utmost business ethics,” she says. VALUE A DIVERSE TEAM Einstein said, “you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that got you there in the first place”. Therefore, look for leaders who share the same values but don’t try to clone yourself. Diversity of experience adds value and will help drive the business forward. One member of an executive board suspected that the CEO rejected superior candidates who he considered a threat, and in doing so created a mediocre team that achieved mediocre results. According to Anne-Marie Moody, author of ‘21st Century Board’, boards talk about wanting to have diversity and skills to match strategic direction of the organisation, but are still tempted by ‘a name’ if such a person becomes available. Moody also found that shareholders equally like, and often prefer to see, a ‘personality’ on the executive board. RESEARCH THE MARKET Know who the key players are in your industry, the trends, and the packages you may have to offer to tempt the ideal candidate. For many years a savvy HR director has used regional trips to network across the industry, taking the time to meet potential candidates. In effect, he has been an in-house executive search firm. What may appear a time-consuming approach has proved an effective way to keep up-to-date in the industry and build a reserve of potential candidates for the future, with the added advantage of not having to advertise positions or pay finders fees. Dubai is now attracting international heavyweight executive search firms such as ITP Consulting, and for many, ‘business is booming’. MARKETING THE ROLE As the war for talent hots up in this ‘employees market’, prospective candidates may need to be persuaded to consider your offer. Tap into what motivates potential candidates, link into their short and long-term goals. The financial package is just one aspect, but career opportunity building on long-term goals is equally important. For example seeking a broader geographical brief, or becoming head of the board. Unless there is some sensitivity in the selection process, get the word out and let people know what you are looking for. CONSIDER INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL APPLICANTS Succession planning should be an integral part of the overall company strategy. An opportunity at executive level is the ideal time to ask the questions: “Do we have the skills required in-house? Is this an opportunity to promote talent from within, or do you need to bring in fresh blood? THE SELECTION PROCESS What information does the business require and what is the method of collection? These are questions to consider when deciding on the hiring process. If you are using psychometric testing, take some time to think about what you want to use the tool for. There is a growing interest in the use of 360-degree feedback to gather information using a series of confidential interviews that focus on specific areas of performance. Preparing questions in advance to seek evidence of different types of behaviour can be time well spent. Panel interviews can provide a richer range of evidence as will asking prospective candidates to prepare a white paper on a specific subject, such as future business strategies, to achieve the vision of the organisation, resources required and expected financial implications. Allowing candidates to present their findings during the selection process provides an opportunity to assess their thinking and the ability to articulate and defend their ideas when being questioned. As Magdy El Zein, managing director of executive search firm Boyden Middle East remarks: “At this level, it is more about the fit and chemistry between individual and organisation”, a point reflected by international executive search firm Korn/Ferry International that uses an internal tool to provide additional insights regarding behaviour and motivation to seek candidates aligned to the cultural fit of the organisation. SMOOTH TRANSITION INTO THE ROLE A fresh challenge often arises as the new team of executives begins to work together — no one teaches executives the critical skills needed to be successful with their boards. Induction is crucial to ensure that the individual has sufficient knowledge about their role and the organisation they will be working for, as well as to become an effective member of the board. Seek the input of existing board members, and ask them what would have been useful for them to have known when they joined and what information would have helped them to hit the ground running. ON-BOARD COACHING One way to help a new team member during those vulnerable first few months is to provide ‘on-board coaching’. At DBM this means shortening an executive’s time to competence in today’s increasingly demanding leadership roles. Executive coaching can be used to increase leadership depth and talent, enhance productivity and adaptability, and improve performance, by supporting the individual being coached to: • Sharpen focus on performance and career goals • Build awareness of personal impact on other team members • Link development plans to business objectives and targets • Accept input and feedback from others • Improve ability to coach and develop direct reports One practical suggestion is to incorporate project work into induction programmes to enable senior executives to benefit from early wins, and in doing so, feel part of the team from day one. As the ‘war for talent’ heats up high potential individuals receive an increasing number of speculative calls and invitations from executive search firms to consider joining other organisations. The key message here is once you find your new executive team members, the next challenge will be to hang onto them.||**||

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