Paul Battye, chief executive of Moorlands Human Capital, gives his view on how to get the right independent trustees onto the right boards in the third of this four part series
I don’t think there’s such a thing as an ideal board in terms of the perfect board. It depends on what your organisation is going through. It depends on what you’ve already got to work with, especially when you’ve got independent trustees. Equally it depends on the key challenges that you’ve got coming up. There’s no such thing as an ideal board, but what you can do is train, develop, and then recruit where you’ve got gaps.
We’re looking for breadth of experience. We’re looking for senior level experience as well, in terms of managing board meetings. That might be as head of pensions, it might be as a pension fund manager. It might be as a consultant. People come from diverse backgrounds and you want to encourage that.
First and foremost you need somebody who has experience of working with a board, either as an adviser or in some kind of executive capacity. They need to understand the issues the board’s facing.
They need to be able to show that they can add value and experience. I think one of the key things we talk about is first and foremost identify what the issue is, so identify the issues of the board – what are the relevant challenges they’re going to face? Show how you’ve got relevant experience, and then show what the outcomes of your experience are.
The process is exactly the same whether you’re recruiting a chair or just an independent trustee. The process is the same but I think the skills that you would look for are different.
The chair is a different role because with the chair you’ve got to have somebody who understands the key skills of their board, so you’ve got to have done the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. They’ve got to understand what the board looks like, where the challenges are, and what its strengths and weaknesses are.
A chairman has to be a really, really good listener. The chair should be the person who speaks least. They should introduce the subject and talk about the different various viewpoints that all the board members have. They’ve got to be sensitive to people’s issues and look at all the different ideas that have been discussed and how everybody’s opinion impacts that.
They shouldn’t dominate meetings. It’s more about listening and then reaffirming what everybody has said. It’s about helping them come to a decision, and to make sure the decision they come to is right. It’s got to be right for that scheme at that time.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be right for everybody at every time, because everybody’s situation is different, so if you came into my business tomorrow what you’ve done in your business might not be relevant, but it’s about how we then find a solution.