May 18th, 2023

Board recruitment plays a pivotal role in the success of forward-thinking organizations. I’ve recruited hundreds of women to the boards of companies like Zillow, Carlotz, Bose, and Healthline, and I’ve seen a few board searches fall flat in the process. Why? It usually comes down to their preparedness for the search: Have they aligned their recruiting priorities with their strategic priorities to identify the type of director who would best serve their short- and long-term goals? Have they sought candidates outside their existing network, which is often filled with people “like them” who will offer the same insights they’ve always gotten?

A great first step in the board recruitment process is revisiting your strategic plan. Below, I outline best practices for companies to approach their board recruitment strategically to drive long-term growth and success.

Start with your strategic plan

Your strategic plan should give your company a competitive edge in the changing business landscape. Strategic planning serves as the compass that guides your organization toward its long-term goals, and your success will hinge on forming the right board around you for insights and direction. By aligning your board’s composition with your strategic priorities, you tap into the collective wisdom and diverse expertise that fuels innovation and drives superior results.

Tips to get started

To build your strategic plan, Athena Founder & CEO Coco Brown recommends finding alignment on five key issues:

  • Your vision: what do you want?
  • Your values: what is important to you as you pursue your vision?
  • Your strategic imperatives: how are you going to get there
  • Your obstacles: what will keep you from success?
  • Your desired measurable outcomes: how will you know you succeeded?

Identify strategic priorities and gaps

Successful organizations are constantly evaluating their strategic priorities and identifying areas for growth and improvement. The same principle applies to board recruitment. By conducting a thorough assessment of your current board’s skillsets and expertise, you can identify areas where additional perspectives can enhance decision-making and unlock untapped potential.

Tips to get started

A “board matrix”—an overview of the skills, experiences, and core competencies of a board of directors—is a powerful tool to gain a clearer understanding of the key contributions each director brings to the table. Download the Athena Board Matrix here and let us know if you’d like a helping hand assessing the current skills and future needs of your board.

Craft your ideal board member profiles

Once you’ve identified skills gaps, it’s time to build your ideal director profiles. Think more broadly than your typical CEO or CFO. Who is right to drive the strategic value you need? It might be a people leader with significant experience in upskilling who’s led through a merger; a product leader who’s scaled teams and owned P&L; a brand leader; or a cybersecurity expert. Remember: diverse boards make better decisions and drive stronger financial performance. As you define your ideal profiles, remember to keep diversity and inclusion top-of-mind.

Tips to get started

As you compare your strategic plan against your board matrix, you may see gaps where specific operating, market, or functional experience would provide key insights for your growth. Think through…

  • Their operating experience. Should they have experience operating at a certain company scale, or during stages of hyper-growth? Should they have led through a merger or acquisition? Are they a respected thought leader in their field? Do they possess the necessary functional expertise aligned with the organization’s needs and strategic priorities? How does their functional experience complement the existing board?
  • Their market experience. Does the candidate have a deep understanding of the organization’s industry (or a parallel industry), including market trends, competitive dynamics, and regulatory landscape? Do they bring a fresh perspective to anticipate and navigate market disruptions or changes? Do they have established connections within the market?
  • Their functional experience. Does the candidate have relevant operating experience, such as executive or leadership roles? How well have they demonstrated their ability to navigate complex business environments, make sound decisions, and mitigate risks? What is their track record in achieving operational excellence, driving growth, and adapting to changing market dynamics?

Cast a wide net to find the right board director

The vast majority of board seats are still filled by personal connections to sitting board directors and executives. At Athena, we say “using the same strategies you’ve always used will get you the same results you’ve always gotten”. Casting a wide net to recruit from an extensive network will help you identify outstanding candidates reflecting the richness of perspectives needed for success.

Tips to get started

Athena helps you cast a wider net, seeking board-ready candidates from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and industries, ensuring a rich tapestry of perspectives around your boardroom table.

Assess your candidate pool against your strategic imperatives

Choosing the right board members requires a rigorous evaluation process. Once you’ve culled your list of top candidates, refer back to your strategic plan: which directors could provide insights on the issues, opportunities, and risks that lie ahead? Athena employs a comprehensive approach, including active sourcing well beyond our immediate networks, sourcing fresh new talent, screening interviews, and thorough qualification analysis. Our focus extends beyond qualifications and experience; we prioritize candidates who embody your organization’s mission, demonstrate a passion for board service, and possess the leadership qualities needed to make a significant impact.

Tips to get started

Gail Marcus, an experienced board director and Nom/Gov chair shared in an Athena Salon on board director selection and assessment that the (rarely followed) best practice is for directors to be up for evaluation and re-nomination annually. This process “will help you identify that you’re missing some skills and competencies on the board, and therefore, you should add [or replace] a board member,” she said.

Onboard & integrate your new directors

Fine-tuning your onboarding process can set up new directors for success from the start. Once the right board members are identified, we can assist with their onboarding through our board resource platform and direct collaboration with your team, setting the stage for immediate impact. Athena’s personalized approach ensures new directors are integrated smoothly into your organization’s culture and governance practices. Athena equips new board members with the knowledge, connections, and resources necessary to contribute effectively from day one, accelerating their ability to drive positive change.

Tips to get started

In our recent blog post on making your board onboarding a success, Athena member and experienced board director Beth Lewis (Chair of the Thrivent Federal Credit Union Board) shared a few simple strategies to accelerate your new director onboarding:

  • Offer practical information and supporting materials from the beginning
  • Assign a mentor or “board buddy” for guidance and questions
  • Offer regular board onboarding sessions with board and executive leaders
  • Ensure new directors understand their governance roles

Diverse boards drive innovation, strengthen decision-making, and ultimately enhance organizational performance. Strategic board recruitment is not just about filling seats; it’s about unlocking the full potential of your boardroom and your company as a whole.

With Athena by your side, you can navigate the complexities of board recruitment with ease. Our expertise in strategic board recruitment and onboarding empowers organizations to find exceptional talent that aligns with their mission, values, and strategic objectives. Our team can guide you through each step, from identifying strategic priorities and filling gaps to engaging your current board and conducting proactive outreach. Are you ready to unlock your boardroom potential? Let’s build your board to drive your organization toward unprecedented success.



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