Get the Right Board Team by Perfecting Your Person Specifications

person specification
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The first step to good governance is having the right people in the room. With the right people, any problem may be dealt with. A well thought out person specification can help you get the right people. A person specification outlines the skills, knowledge, behaviours and qualities needed for someone to be effective in a role. Person specifications are used along with a role description to recruit effective board members, particularly in competency-based recruitment systems.

The board recruitment process should include the following steps:

  • Define the priorities for the organisation
  • Clarify what the board needs to do to make these priorities happen
  • List the skills, experience, connections and so on needed in the boardroom
  • Match that against the current board members and identify gaps

The purpose of this blog is to help you consider what should be included in a person specification to ensure you get the right person for your board.

What is a person specification?


A person specification sets out the key requirements needed in a candidate to ensure they can perform in their role. The person specification is likely to include details of the requirements in terms of:

  • Skills and experience
  • Personal qualities, behaviours and attributes

Why use essential and desirable criteria?

In many person specifications, the list of requirements is divided into essential criteria and desirable criteria. These are used in shortlisting and interviewing. Essential criteria are those which are necessary for a person to do a job, while desirable criteria are those which enhance a person’s ability to do a job, but which may be learned. For instance, industry-specific knowledge is often a desirable criterion because it may be learned ‘on the job’. For positions that attract many applicants, use of desirable criteria when shortlisting can help identify a more focused list of candidates for interview.

What competencies are usually required in a board member person specification?

While each person specification will be specific (depending on the priorities for the board at the time), you may wish to consider the following competencies as a general requirement for board members:

1. Experience

  • Industry-specific
  • On other boards
  • As a senior manager
  • As a customer, or service user

2. Directing strategy

  • Can define and articulate a strategic long-term vision
  • Can identify and prioritise strategic objectives to achieve the company vision
  • Sees the long-term consequences of decisions
  • Takes a broad overview and acts in the interests of all stakeholders
  • Identifies opportunities or possibilities and potential threats
  • Proposes creative ideas and fresh perspectives
  • Can monitor progress towards achieving strategic objectives
  • Able to take calculated risks

3. Leading and motivating

  • Committed to the values and purpose of the company
  • Understands the role of the board to act as leaders within the organisation
  • Ensures high standards are met
  • Develops and maintains good relationships
  • Can clearly articulate a vision and inspire others to help achieve it
  • Delegates effectively and with appropriate support
  • Encourages appropriate behaviours by setting an example

4. Teamworking

  • Works well with others
  • Makes own opinion known and listens to the opinions of others
  • Respects the work and views of team members
  • Challenges appropriately and objectively
  • Able to compromise to reach an agreed solution
  • Supports all board decisions, even if they offered a conflicting view during discussion

5. Decision making

  • Can make considered decisions, using all the evidence available
  • Can put forward persuasive arguments to influence others
  • Makes points concisely and does not waste time
  • Respects the opinions of others and considers these carefully
  • Can challenge and probe appropriately without appearing aggressive
  • Is confident in putting forward opinions which contradict those of others
  • Maintains concentration during discussions

6. Communication

  • Listens attentively, respectfully and objectively
  • Is able to give and receive feedback
  • Challenges assertively
  • Is mindful of the audience and can communicate with a wide range of groups
  • Can convey messages in a clear, concise and engaging manner

7. Applying specialist knowledge

  • Applies specialist knowledge appropriately in a range of contexts e.g.:
    • Legal knowledge
    • Financial knowledge
    • Knowledge of the industry or sector
    • Knowledge of the organisation – its history, culture, networks
    • Knowledge of governance
    • Knowledge of legislation and regulatory requirements

8. Self-management

  • Attends all meetings
  • Is punctual and prepared
  • Takes responsibility for own personal development
  • Is diligent in reading and understanding all information provided
  • Is able to manage own time effectively
  • Provides governance, and not management, input to board meetings
  • Supports the work of the board and the delivery of the corporate strategy
  • Respects confidential matters
  • Completes relevant action within agreed timescales

9. Personal development

  • Is committed to own personal development
  • Seeks and gives appropriate feedback on performance
  • Continuously seeks to improve own knowledge and experience
  • Uses new skills, experience and learning
  • Shares learning with others

10. Representing

  • Creates a good image of the organisation
  • Does not engage in activities that may call the organisation into disrepute
  • Acts responsibly and appropriately
  • Attends all relevant events in addition to board meetings
  • Is loyal to the decisions of the board and to the organisation generally
  • Respects all agreed channels of communication
  • Can convey the aims and objectives of the organisation clearly and succinctly

11. Analysing and scrutinising

  • Accurately analyses information
  • Determines gaps in information presented and assesses the need for additional information
  • Looks at a situation from a number of angles
  • Can offer alternative ways of looking at things
  • Looks at all the implications of a decision, not just the financial impact
  • Makes decisions which are good for the long-term interests of the company, its employees and stakeholders
  • Uses own skills and experience to find best course of action
  • Can effectively monitor performance against expectations

Be sure to tailor your person specifications to match the skills gaps identified in your board skills audit to make sure you get a fully rounded board team.

Some useful reading –

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