Corporate Boards Can Play an Important Role in Talent Management

In the Harvard Business Review article, “The Boardroom’s Quiet Revolution,” authors Richard D. Parsons and Marc A. Feigen take a look at how corporate boards have been “discreetly transforming themselves” over the last 10 years. As part of their research, I had the opportunity to speak with the authors about the growing involvement of boards in executive talent management and succession planning.

It is the Board of Directors’ job, as the senior governance body of the institution, to take a long-term multigenerational view of the company that exceeds the length of service of any one CEO or senior executive team. That level of understanding and perspective has led many boards to become more actively involved in long-term executive talent management and succession planning.

During my tenure as Aetna’s chairman and CEO, I found the more we focused on the talent management process, the more it became clear how much we had to do. We started by directly involving our board in executive talent management and succession. This approach led to a series of important decisions on how best to develop key executives, including potential successors to the CEO, and get them ready to take on more senior roles over time.

Today, as an independent director of three Fortune 100 companies, I continue to see the strategic contribution boards can make in the talent management process. By having thoughtful conversations about the industry, competitive dynamics and company strategy, as well as what skills, capabilities and experience will be required, board members can bring their diverse perspectives to bear, and help shape the talent requirements and development needs for the future.

I believe, as corporate boards evolve, we will see an increased desire to be involved in talent management. The more progressive boards will actively seek to take on that responsibility because they understand how strategic talent management can contribute to the long-term viability of the organization.