From time to time in this space, I’ll be asking guest bloggers to share their thoughts about various board-related topics. Today’s blog is written by Alice Sayant. Alice is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com.
Recently I was asked to join a board of directors. I was already serving on a couple of other boards, where I was quite busy with committee work, and so I agreed to join the new board but declined to sit on any committees.
Mistake! By not sitting on any committees, I had automatically excluded myself from some of the most interesting, important and engaging work that a board does. You see, boards have such a broad range of responsibilities that they delegate some of the heavy lifting to the committee level. And while that means more work for committee members, it also means that they get to interact with management, delve into details, and really learn about the organization in a way that the board can’t. In my view, committee work allows you to really add value to your board and to have an impact on your organization.
A typical board of directors has two or three standing committees. These will vary according to the organization’s needs, but often include Audit, Governance, and Compensation committees. Your board might have a Finance Committee, or Risk, or Investments, or Human Resources, or Fundraising, or any number of others -- there are as many committees as there are types of boards.
When you join a board, you might be assigned to a committee based on your background or on where there is a vacancy. But you may be asked which committee you would prefer. Which leads to the question “Which committee is right for you?”
I’ve served on many different committees, and they have all been right for me! By that I mean that the work of every single committee has been interesting and absorbing, and that I have had the opportunity to learn from each experience, and to get to know some terrific people. And some of the best experiences have come from committees that did not, at first glance, seem to be the obvious choice for me.
If you have an accounting background, the most obvious choice might be the Audit Committee. If you have a legal background, the Governance Committee seems like a fit. And so on. But you might be surprised at the impact you can make and the enjoyment you can get from serving on a committee that seems to be the counter-intuitive choice. Not only is it a refreshing change from your day-to-day work, but the very fact that you are not a subject matter expert can lead you to ask the kind of insightful question that only “outsiders” think about.
One last thing. Regardless of which committee you believe is right for you, I think it’s important that your board knows you will serve where you are asked. After all, the savvy director is there to collaborate, contribute and influence decisions where they are needed most.
I’d like to thank Alice for offering her insights about board committees. Here’s what I took away from today’s blog.
Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.