Thursday, November 24, 2011

My speed dating experience - novel approaches to board recruitment

This week I had my first experience of speed dating. I had seen that a social business in the Marches was looking for board members and I expressed an interest. So on Tuesday I was invited to, in effect, a speed dating session.

The organisation put a dozen potential board members supplied with light refreshments in a room with current board managers and key staff. Every five or so minutes a timer instructed those present to talk to someone else. Perhaps only an organisation working in the cultural arena could think of something so novel and creative.

Too many organisations still recruit board members from networks of friends, acquaintances and sometimes "the great and the good". This leads to board re-creating themselves in their own (often stale, male and pale) image rather than experiencing genuine renewal. Where organisations do adopt a more rigorous approach, this can become somewhat formal and even bureaucratic with panel interviews and application forms which can demand a lot from applicants and organisations but may not be useful in creating effective boards.

I would encourage organisations to consider the speed dating approach. Firstly it is a quick way to get to assess applicants when such exercises can otherwise absorb a lot of time and energy for all concerned - especially for smaller organisations. Moreover, allows the existing board members to be involved in recruitment and assess the chemistry between them and applicants.

It is worth adding some caveats. Speed dating may be better at assessing social and networking skills (hopefully more than small talk ability!) but less useful in divining other requirements such as strategic insight. Requirements such as ability and willingness to prepare and attend meetings have to be checked out via the speed dating or another mechanism. There is still a need to have a clear person specification which the applicants can reflect upon and the organisation can rigorously assess candidates on.

My speed dating experience certainly made me think – not least about board recruitment. Now I will await feedback from the organisation.

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