Thursday, June 19, 2014

Agenda item: Make question-asking quality part of nonprofit board recruitment

Agenda item 19: Ask board recruits to bring questions to the recruitment interview

Many of us are used to tacking on a vague, "any questions..." to the end of our interviews with prospective board members.

We do it, in part, because it offers an easy way to bring the process to closure. It also offers a token opportunity for the prospect to slip in a last-gasp attempt to figure out everything he/she needs to know to understand expectations.

But what if we asked for questions as a different part of the process? What if their responses became part of the assessment for fit that we engage in with each prospect?

I drew inspiration for this agenda item directly from a phenomenal book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger.  (You know I bought that one with boards in mind.) Berger suggests that, instead of asking the all-too-common "any questions..." at the end of an interview (and waiting for the inevitable inane or hyper-specific questions that it invites)

"Tell every person coming in for an interview to bring a few questions with them. Make it clear that those questions should be ambitious and open-ended...Why, what if, and how questions are recommended."

What questions do they bring to the table? Are they relevant to your organization? To your mission or industry? Do they show intellectual curiosity? Do they show a capacity for leadership versus a management mindset? Is it obvious they did some research in preparation for the interview. Berger states what I hope should be obvious: "The questions this person brings up reveal a lot about him or her."

Berger asks, "Are the questions audacious and inquisitive or more modest and practical?" I heartily applaud the spirit and intent of that question (and would strive for erring on the side of the former versus the latter, because our boards are desperate for "audacious and inquisitive" mindset). But I would add that healthy boards need both types of thinking.

As someone who calls for incorporating intellectual curiosity into our member recruitment criteria, I appreciate this simple, but powerful, way to make that quality visible and potentially actionable.

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