Conflict of interest is a critical matter for any board, but it is particularly an issue among founding boards. After all, those boards are usually filled with people who are close to the founder – and when that happens, all sorts of potential for conflict arises.
As we build the board at Creating the Future, we aren’t inclined to invite friends and family as is so common to founding boards. Using the approach from my Board Recruitment and Orientation workbook, Dimitri and I are inviting the first few board members, after which it will be up to those board members to recruit the rest of the board.
And while that is the best way we know to avoid having a “founder’s board” from the start, there is still the matter of those first few board members…
As we consider the issue of Conflict of Interest, then, this is not a theoretical discussion, but a real one – once again using Creating the Future as a case study to learn from together.
Status of Board Recruitment at Creating the Future
Given the great advice that was shared at this post on Recruitment Criteria, we have so far invited two amazing people to the board. So first, allow me to introduce the first two founding board members at Creating the Future – Mark Riffey and Alexandra Peters. We are excited about the skills and dedication each of them brings, and we hope you will link through to their profiles and get to know them.
Moving forward to recruit additional board members, we have a pool of people who meet all the criteria listed in that post – how exciting!!! However, that is where the issue of Conflict of Interest arises.
Conflict of Interest
Way back at the end of 2009, when Creating the Future was just a twinkle in our eyes and we hadn’t yet adopted our “Transparent Engagement” approach to decision-making, we gathered a group to help us begin considering the question of building a board. These were people we knew we could count on for both their wisdom and dedication – the graduates of our Consultant Immersion Courses.
During that conversation, we mentioned that several of those graduates would make great board members. And almost to the one, these governance experts pushed back, noting that they thought that would create an inherent conflict of interest.
The areas of conflict included the seemingly benign, for example, their ongoing participation in the curriculum – attending classes, taking workshops, etc. But they also included more substantive issues – receiving referrals for consulting gigs, as well as the small group of individuals who are working towards becoming instructors to teach the Creating the Future curriculum on behalf of the organization.
Overwhelmingly, our graduates told us, “We wouldn’t recommend this to a client. There’s just too much potential for conflict of interest.”
That was 18 months ago. In that intervening time, we have had two individuals already join the board, and there are several more amazing individuals from varied backgrounds on the list, yet to be invited.
One of those board members – Alexandra – has actually attended the class. We had intended to ask her even before she joined our graduate community, as we had gotten to know her immense wisdom prior to that week together.
And while the last thing we are thinking of is stacking the board with nothing but our graduates, there are one or two individuals we would very much like to engage as potential leaders of this organization! Having spent a week with them during the class (and for some, having had them come back more than once, to learn again, to go deeper into the teachings…), and having watched their growth via the online graduates’ community, we know that these are individuals with passion, shared values, dedication. We know we can count on them to ask tough questions in a constructive way, because they already do so.
In other words, they are every single thing one could want in a board member, with every single quality you all listed at this post. They even have the amazing quality suggested throughout my workbook – we have worked with them, know them, and therefore already know their level of commitment and dedication to doing the work.
Yet their comments from over a year ago still ring in our ears, making us wonder: Is there really such an overwhelming conflict of interest that these dedicated individuals should be discounted carte blanche?
What do you think?
- Is there an inherent conflict of interest if graduates of our classes become board members?
- If they continue to attend classes, take workshops, go through the next levels of the curriculum as it develops, is there a potential conflict there? If so, what is it? And how can we address that?
- If they accept referrals for business or become contract faculty, is there a conflict? And if so, how to address that?
- And is there anything else we haven’t asked that we should be asking when it comes to this group of amazing and dedicated individuals?
Any and all thoughts are more than welcome. We really want to figure this out!