The Benefits of a Nominations Committee
“Another committee,” I sighed as my Chair announced that our tried, tested and efficient means of Trustee recruitment needed to be swept away in favour “something more robust” (read: bureaucratic). It is fair to say, then, that I established our Nominations Committee with a degree of skepticism. There was nothing wrong with it in principle – it existed, in the words of the Terms of Reference, to “ensure the integrity and appropriateness of appointments and re-appointments made to the Board of Trustees”. Who could argue against this? Yet surely this could wait; there is always something more pressing.
Now don’t minute this next bit, but I was wrong.
Previously, much of our Board recruitment was initiated through nominations from a pipeline of professional connections. This yielded fabulous Trustees who were to prove instrumental to the resilience of our governance during the pandemic and through changes in leadership. Our approach was not without method: we recruited on the basis of the Board’s needs and candidates were interviewed by the CEO and Chair. Not everyone made it to the boardroom.
The challenge for the Committee was in identifying what to prioritise – what were we to go without when we wanted our schools and children to have it all?
The approach did, however, produce some unintended outcomes. For example, it was London-centric, when we needed to build our non-executive base in our growing Cambridgeshire region.
Setting up the Committee was easy: I largely copied the terms of reference from an NHS equivalent and assembled two Trustees, a Member and a local Committee Chair to constitute it. Hindered by the pandemic, the Committee did not meet straight away. Sensing that I needed additional motivation, my Chair and two Trustees announced their retirements in quick succession. There is nothing quite like the impending loss of a third of the Board to focus a governance professional’s mind!
The Committee was promptly convened and instructed by the Board as to its needs, supported by a recent knowledge and experience audit. To this was added the perspective of the Member and the local Chair as ‘stakeholders’ of the Board. The challenge for the Committee was in identifying what to prioritise – what were we to go without when we wanted our schools and children to have it all?
Having decided on a balance of education or curriculum leadership experience, IT and procurement expertise and an accountant, the question moved to how we would recruit. The Committee was convinced of the need to engage a recruitment agency. ‘Outsourcing’ something so important did not appeal to me and, anyway, joining us would be such an attractive option, how hard could it be? Our recruitment manager took up the challenge and arranged for me to speak to a number of agencies. Eventually, I was persuaded to put my faith in the team at Society, a trust they were to repay with their success in the months that followed.
Creating the adverts and role descriptions was straightforward enough but being really candid about the likely time commitment was a risk. Many potential candidates balked at what would be required and our ask compared unfavourably with others. I cannot know whether those more favourable propositions told the whole story, but I am sure that we did the right thing in allowing people to decide quickly whether it was right for them.
Even harder was articulating to Society a clear idea of what we wanted in order to inform their conversations. Going through this process was good for us and it made the eventual recruitment easier; Trustees had not only formed the necessary consensus, but also committed to it publicly.
The recruitment process was much like that for a paid role: after initial discussions with Society and our CEO, candidates submitted a covering letter and CV; the Committee undertook a rigorous shortlisting exercise and interviews were held. Withstanding temptation, the Committee held true to its priorities and we were able to recruit an accountant, an IT procurement professional and three Trustees with a range of different insights into education.
The new Board would be majority female, but no more diverse in terms of other characteristics. This partly reflected the under-representation of ethnic minority and disabled groups at the level of experience and seniority in the sectors we were targeting but was also a product of our not being really explicit about reaching those who would most diversify the perspectives of the Board. We also failed to recruit a Chair – feedback on this front was that candidates were nervous of jumping straight in at the deep end of a Trust they did not know.
Recruiting five new Trustees to an existing Board of six was a bold stroke and much thought went into this. It would be easier to have just one round of inductions, but this would change the Board’s dynamic very quickly. Fortunately, our new Trustees have hit the ground running and seem to enjoy working alongside a mix of newcomers and seasoned colleagues.
We will make some tweaks, of course, but now that the work of the Nominations Committee is our tried, tested and efficient means of Trustees recruitment, I can fully recommend it as an approach.