Getting the right candidate

Every vacancy creates an opportunity to reassess the needs of a board or body, and the skills and experience that will best complement the talents of the other board members. A skills analysis of the members of the board or body alongside future skills requirements should be completed.

Board chairs will be able to reflect their knowledge of the workings of the board, its less formal interactions and relationships, and the technical and personal skills that could make the best contribution to the board's performance. Where possible, board chairs should be consulted for their perspective on:

  • the functioning and skills of the board or body
  • where the board or body might be strengthened
  • resulting position descriptions and competencies required.

Industry groups, voluntary organisations and other stakeholders also may have relevant views to offer. (Refer to the section Information for Candidates below.)

Position description and competencies

Writing position descriptions and board profiles can be used to tailor information and person specifications for each vacancy and reappointment, and to review the need to bring in certain skill sets or to adopt new approaches for the work of a board. This will:

  • give candidates a greater understanding of what is required, before they decide whether to apply for/accept a board appointment
  • provide decision-makers with benchmarks against which to measure the attributes of candidates allowing for skills profiling against competencies required
  • help stakeholders to nominate candidates with relevant skills and experience; and reinforce the principle of appointment on merit.

Identifying possible candidates

Potential candidates to boards can be identified in various ways, including advertising, the use of search consultants, nominations by interest groups or MPs, seeking suggestions from current chairs and board members, self-nomination (e.g. people interested in District Health Board membership can place their names on the Ministry of Health's database), or from community and professional networks.

Departments that maintain their own schedules of people who are interested in board appointments need to check regularly that the information is accurate and that those on the database remain interested and available.

Where nomination of a representative of a particular organisation or community is involved, rather than an application process, officials should obtain the Minister's agreement before exploring a candidate's availability.

Departments must manage nominees' expectations carefully, so there is no implication that they will be appointed. Candidates also should be made aware that a range of factors may have an impact on decision timelines and the final outcome.

There may be no single 'best approach', but Ministers need the assurance that recommendations for appointment are based on the widest possible canvassing of high quality candidates.

Diversity of membership

Cabinet Office circular Government Appointments: Increasing Diversity of Board membership (www.dpmc.govt.nz/cabinet/circulars/co02/16.html) emphasises that the government wishes to see a more diverse range of individuals appointed to government bodies. Cabinet has directed those involved in appointment processes to explore alternative means of finding candidates if existing methods do not produce a suitable balance of individuals for consideration.

The Crown Entities Act specifies that, subject to requirements concerning merit, Ministers making or recommending appointments to boards must take into account the desirability of promoting diversity of membership, to ensure that the work of boards benefits from representation that reflects New Zealand society.

Nomination agencies

Nominating agencies need to be involved in the candidate identification process as they may be able to assist by increasing the size and diversity of the pool of individuals to be considered.

When engaging with nominating agencies, officials should:

  • ask nominating agencies as early as possible to review their databases and put forward suitable candidates. Officials should ideally contact nominating agencies at least three weeks before the candidate identification deadline
  • provide nominating agencies with material that sets out the skills and competencies sought, to maximise the chances of obtaining suitable nominations
  • help nominating agencies to keep their database material current by advising if their nominees have been successful or, with the permission of new appointees, providing diversity information back to the nominating agency with an interest in that data.

When professional bodies or other organisations are entitled to nominate a member for a board, the department concerned should encourage them to take account of the benefits of diversity when providing nominations.

The table below has information on each nominating agency:

Nominating Agencies

Services

Ministry for Women - Nominations Service

(https://women.govt.nz/leadership/nominations-service)

A professional search service which provides women candidates who best meet the criteria specified by the agency responsible for appointments. The Service:

  • accesses an up-to-date database of over 3000 women from all sectors and professions. Recruits and refreshes database on an ongoing basis.
  • provides short biographies with up-to-date curriculum vitae and contact details, which are easily transposed into the CAB 50/01 forms that accompany appointments papers
  • confirms the availability of nominees where this is desirable. Nominees' expectations are carefully managed
  • gathers and distributes statistics on women's participation on State sector boards and committees
  • provides women candidates with governance advice through website and my board strengths, (www.mwa.govt.nz/women-on-boards/assessment) an online governance self-assessment and development tool, which identifies governance roles for which individual women may be suitable and provides advice on next steps to pursue those roles.

Te Puni Kōkiri  Ministry of Māori Development (Governance and Appointments Service)

(https://www.tpk.govt.nz/en/search?q=governance)

  • promotes Māori participation on statutory boards, committees and advisory groups, particularly those playing a role in New Zealand's social and economic development
  • a database and nominations service
  • aims to develop and maintain relationships with key Māori, community and industry/sector organisations

Ministry for Pacific Peoples

(https://www.mpp.govt.nz/what-we-do/nominations-service/)

  • promotes Pacific representation on statutory boards, committees and advisory groups; and grow Pacific leadership capacity for nominations to those entities whose decisions have an impact on Pacific people
  • a database of Pacific candidates and a small nominations service
  • promotes the nominations service through MPIA e-newsletters, MPIA Leo Pasifika publication, MPIA website/Facebook and Pacific media networks

Office of Ethnic Communities, Department of Internal Affairs

(https://www.ethniccommunities.govt.nz/ )

  • promotes participation by ethnic New Zealanders on statutory boards, committees and advisory groups, particularly those playing a role in New Zealand's social and economic development
  • provides a nominations service and a database of potential candidates
  • identifies, works with, and manages the expectations of nominees to produce credible applications to appointment opportunities, and
  • promotes building of leadership capacity in New Zealand's ethnic communities

Office for Disabilities Issues, Ministry of Social Development

(https://www.odi.govt.nz/whats-happening/expressions-of-interest-for-the-office-for-disability-issues-nominations-database/)

 
  • extensive links with people with disabilities
  • downloadable application forms
  • a database of people with disabilities who might be appropriate for nomination to boards.

The Commercial Operations group of the Treasury (formerly COMU)

The Commercial Operations group is responsible for coordinating appointments to boards of State-owned enterprises, Crown entity companies and some statutory Crown entities. Commercial Operations operates a Centre of Monitoring Expertise which provides advice and expertise on monitoring and appointments matters. It maintains a substantial database of names, and will consider requests for access to that information from departments that are responsible for managing Crown entity board appointments. It encourages anyone who believes they have the skills and experience to become a board member to express an interest at www.boardappointments.co.nz. Other information about the Commercial Operations group, along with key processes and documents, is available at www.treasury.govt.nz/commercial/.

Overseas candidates

Sometimes the particular expertise needed by a board justifies consideration of overseas-based candidates. In such a case, care should be taken to: check information on their qualifications and interests; ensure they understand the wider New Zealand 'cultural' landscape within which the board operates; clarify such matters as reimbursement of expenses; and find the most cost-effective way of conducting checks and interviews.

Departments and Ministers will want to balance the possible criticism of additional costs that could result from an overseas board appointment, against making sure the board has the best possible range of skills to meet its objectives and vision.

If trans-Tasman bodies become more common this will raise particular issues; for instance, some appointments will be made by consensus or only by one country's Minister. This will increase the complexity of the appointment process. More specific procedures are likely to be developed over time.

Fees and allowances for trans-Tasman bodies should be discussed on a case-by-case basis with the State Services Commission (see Chapter 3:Remuneration for members of boards and other bodies).

Who is not eligible for appointment

A public servant's first duty is to their Minister and the government of the day, through their chief executive. A board member's first duty is to work to achieve the outcomes, impacts and objectives of the body or agency. This creates the potential for tension.

Cabinet has agreed, as a general rule, that Ministers should not appoint public servants to statutory boards, nor to boards of State-owned enterprises or Crown entity companies. There may, however, be special circumstances which justify appointment of a public servant, including building board capacity through the participation of suitably qualified women, Māori, and Pacific Island people. Further details can be found in the Cabinet Office circular CO (02) 5 Appointment of Public Servants to Statutory Boards (www.dpmc.govt.nz/cabinet/circulars/co02/5.html).

The Crown Entities Act was accompanied by consequential amendments to a range of Acts that removed all ex officio appointments of public servants from Crown entity boards. Other legislation or establishing documents may do this as well for other appointments. Section 30 of the Crown Entities Act sets out other elements that disqualify people from appointment to Crown entity boards. For some entities, the enabling legislation defines additional circumstances that could make a person ineligible for consideration. Officials responsible for appointments need to be familiar with these provisions.

Information for candidates

Appointing departments must provide all candidates and nominees with information about the board in which a vacancy has arisen. A useful model of the information that should be provided would be:

Person specific information

Generic information

  • Role definition.
  • Accountabilities.
  • Key internal and external relationships.
  • Required skills, eg:
    • organisational leadership
    • understanding of effective governance
    • understanding of effective strategy.
  • Essential or desirable qualifications (academic, professional, etc).
  • Prior experience to be demonstrated.
  • Minimum meeting attendance required.
  • Involvement outside of formal meetings.
  • Personal integrity, e.g. avoidance/management of conflicts of interest.
  • Approach needed to contribute effectively to the entity's performance.
  • Likely level of fees.

A board chair specification would have a separate and more comprehensive description, to reflect the nature of the position.

  • General and specific legislative frameworks under which the board operates.
  • Role and functions of the board.
  • Operating and sector context.
  • Key external relationships, e.g. Minister, monitoring department, representative bodies, board chief executive and other staff.
  • Unique nature of being part of the State Services; the obligations and responsibilities it entails.

Without this information, it will be difficult for candidates to make an informed judgement about the skills and commitment required of an effective board member, as well as of the potential areas of concern such as possible conflict of interest.

For a successful candidate, this initial contact will act as the start of their induction programme; its quality and style will set the tone for the ongoing relationship.

Information from candidates

Departments should make it clear to the candidate/nominee what information he or she needs to provide, and why it is important for the information to be accurate, up to date and complete.

Relevant information should be sought from all candidates/nominees, including proof of their academic qualifications and current employment. The candidate should supply supporting information about their skills, qualifications, relevant background experience, and availability. Information that will enable a judgement to be made about potential conflicts of interest must also be sought.

To avoid the possibility of future embarrassment, candidates must be asked whether there is anything in their personal histories that may make their appointment inappropriate or that would create the perception of being inappropriate. Candidates also need to be clear that once appointed to a board, they cannot let advocacy of particular interests override or undermine their governance duties as members of the board.

Candidates also should be asked for information on any existing directorships and other major work commitments. If a candidate reaches the short-list, they could be asked if they are currently being considered for other State sector board appointments.

Holding another appointment certainly does not disqualify someone from consideration, as real value can result from 'cross fertilisation' of ideas and experience, and the particular skills required may be in short supply. However, a balance needs to be struck between demonstrated capability, having sufficient time to do justice to the work of the board concerned, and managing any conflicts of interest.

Formal consent to being appointed

Before an appointment can be made to a Crown entity board, the person concerned must consent in writing to being a member, certifying that he/she is not disqualified under any provisions of the Crown Entities Act or any other relevant provisions, and disclosing to the responsible Minister the nature and extent of all interests he/she has or is likely to have in matters relating to the entity. This confirmation should be obtained in time to be noted in the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee submission regarding the appointment.

Formal consent should also be obtained for other types of appointments. At what stage this occurs during the appointment process can be dependent on the requirements of legislation or other appointment "documents" or "rules".

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