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Recruitment + Evaluation Are Essential Tools For Better Boardrooms

Posted on March 21, 2014 at 3:00 PM

I have tried very hard to understand why any real focus on better plc boardrooms would wait years and years to look at the process of recruitment for those very boardrooms, and also take a hard look at the evaluation of those who occupy them.....but I have failed, time and again.

So now, three years after the review by Lord Davies of Abersoch into the under-representation of women in the UK's business boardrooms, it seems we are at least getting more serious about looking at recruitment. Charlotte Sweeney has a smart new website, and the government's backing, it seems on much closer scrutiny of what the headhunters get upto for their fat fees. 

In September last year the UK's Business Secretary Vince Cable announced she was to review the Voluntary Code of Conduct that the executive search industry uses during the board appointment search process. Well that was a step forward, even if everyone within the industry knew that the 'code of conduct' was something of a farce, and always had been. No matter - the scrutiny was a huge step forward.

It took six months for this report to appear, which should make everyone appreciate the amount of intelligent copy good journalists turn out within the same time period....and then, there it was: in early March. Read it for yourself here.

I was underwhelmed. It seems we are to going to continue to walk around rattling cages for incremental change. The Guardian summed it all up rather well. There was one idea of 'all women shortlists'. dubbed by The Telegraph as 'fraught with legal difficulties.' And apart from that, we seem to be back where we started.

I am coming to the conclusion that boardrooms are not going to change much because it really is not in the vested interests of those who currently hold the power in that roost to change them. 

Because apart from recruitment, the most important way to monitor the calibre of our boardrooms is evaluation. There was a flurry around this - which I reported here, and it attracted a lot of interest. The best thing that came out of that was the direct response from Anthony Fry, a chairman. And that rare thing - a chairman who picks up his iPad and starts contributing to the debate.

I understand since then that ICSA is about to move forward with the consultation.(I should say here that the software arm of ICSA very kindly sponsors this blog, with no editorial control).

But I feel compelled to say that I did not realise that ICSA currently has a Board Evaluation arm itself. I do not understand why that would not mean it would suffer from a conflict of interest - I was under the impression it might offer evaluation in future, and not concurrently with any consultation.

Who will decide on this very important issue ? There are mutterings from people who concern themselves with standards - but, a bit like recruitment this is not a regulated space, it seems. And the potential pickings are very rich.

I was standing in line to have my copy of the Olympus whistleblower Michael Woodford's book Exposure signed when I found myself next to the head of ICSA Board Evaluation. Mr Woodford was an excellent keynote speaker - and here is his inscription., which I took to heart and am chuffed with....

In conversation with Michael Woodford, he said something I found very interesting. "It wasn't the Japanese I felt betrayed by - it was the people in the UK, Germany and the US who made it so difficult for me to blow the whistle." I hope to have more from him soon - so watch this space. 

If we want better standards and better boardrooms, we need to stop pussy-footing around when it comes to recruitment and evaluation. They are the tools that ensure delivery.

And we need far more chairmen to speak out and preferably also show that they are capable of using an iPad.

Categories: Appointments, Headhunters, Scrutiny