Extending the Board Level Gene Pool

Hiring talent at the top end of town — in board member and executive leadership functions, has long been a big topic of discussion.


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Hiring talent at the top end of town — in board member and executive leadership functions, has long been a big topic of discussion. Boards actively seek out candidates with the best experience, who have proven track records in delivering business growth, exceptional customer experience and visionary leadership or advisory skills.

Building a high impact board, whose members possess the correct skillsets, personalities and motivations to govern an organisation, can be an extensive and time-consuming process.

Traditionally, board member selection was based on a candidate’s experience and suitability to perform the role, which has historically led to a lack of diversity from a gender, background and talent perspective. A recent spotlight on the importance of diversity has seen the board gene pool expand, with 42.6% of new appointments to ASX 200 boards in 2020 comprising of women. Distinctly a shift in the right direction, there is still work to be done when analysing the makeup of board appointments, especially as boards play a key role in overseeing the talent strategies that are in place across the organisation.

It’s the board’s responsibility to ensure that the organisation not only has an effective talent acquisition and management strategy but equally, to manage the talent-related risk in our agile, digital era.

Evaluating talent, not just experience

Board recruitment should consider beyond just an individual’s professional experience and change strategy to one where the human capital potential takes precedence over experience. Whilst experience may indicate previous success, it’s essential that boards comprehend that, as a stand-alone measure, this fails to allow for other substantial factors which can suggest that an individual would be a highly effective board member.

One of those factors is talent. Raw talent is an innate ability to quickly pick up, learn and adapt to new skills, techniques or situations. Individuals with raw talent are lucky enough to have a powerful skill which draws from an innate ability deep within, as opposed to individuals who have experience and have worked hard, but perhaps lack a natural instinct to drive and capitalise on new experiences.

Leaders with raw talent are smart, they’re agile and normally have a hunger to succeed. Frequently acquired from outside the traditional confines of an industry, these individuals may not hold the same resume of experience, but hold valuable transferable skills which are worthy of consideration for board positions.

A myriad of reasons exist as to why an individual might have less experience, which plays nicely in adding to the holistic diversity of a board. It might be a parent who has taken time off work to raise a family and who demonstrates amazing talent, but on paper, stacks up less favourably than the individual who hasn’t taken time out with their family or who has worked in the same industry.

Is their application less worthy of consideration if they’re assessed to be talented and a strong cultural fit? Consideration should be given to the additional skills these talented, but less experienced, individuals may bring to the corporate table.

How can corporate Australia ever reach a point of true equality, if we fail to assess and recruit individuals at the most senior levels of organisations on a range of diverse, data driven decisions?

Assessing transferability of skills

Assessing, building and structuring a board or a leadership team based on a broad range of criteria encourages a forward-thinking, adaptive culture, which recognises the value of diversity in thought, talent and experience. Not only does it shape the way the organisation is governed by the board, but flows down into senior and mid-management, to drive a culture of change, fit for the 21st century.

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