Part of the skill in running a successful board is knowing when to bring in outside expertise for work on a particular issue.
The first source for advice should be the organisation's staff. Be aware that requests to staff for information should be channelled through the Chief Executive.
If you cannot use the organisation's staff — perhaps, for example, the expertise does not exist in-house, or the issues are highly sensitive — it may be necessary to seek outside expertise. Using outside expertise requires a process that is:
- Formal: discussed with the chair or with the whole board
- Open: with the name of the expert and the cost known by board members
- Contestable: if over an agreed amount, quotes should be sought from several suppliers
- Within budget: or has approval if it is outside budget
Sometimes a board member may wish to test advice given to the board in-house by using outside expertise at the company's expense. Boards using best practice allow this and have a clear process on approval and the sharing of the advice given. See an example of a policy.
The credentials of the consultant or firm should be thoroughly checked, and the business and cultural fit with your organisation assessed.
Things to look for when selecting an outside expert:
- Who else have the experts worked with?
- Are they happy for you to contact people they have worked with previously?
- What do those people have to say?
- Do the experts have the respect of their peers?
- How much understanding of your organisation do they demonstrate?
- How much understanding of your business environment do they demonstrate?
- Is knowledge of tikanga a requirement?
- How do you think their personal style will work with directors/trustees?
- Do they state clearly how they will charge you for the work?
When you engage an outside consultant, be sure the contract includes clauses that cover:
- Intellectual property rights
- Conflicts of interest
- Price, or how it will be calculated
- Reimbursement of expenses
- The scope of the work
- Time frame for completion
Make sure that you get legal advice if in any doubt about the contractual arrangements.
And never forget, outside experts are only advisors. All decisions made remain the board's responsibility.