How 'people science' can lead to sought-after board chemistry

April 11, 2023

By John F. Broer, Real Good Ventures

Board dynamics are certainly unique. The roles and relationships that develop on a board are very different from relationships on a corporate executive team or a project team. The objectives and directives usually differ, and the longevity of board roles can extend well past the typical tenure of a corporate role.


What isn’t different is that all of these “teams” are made up of human beings—or, as author and speaker Patrick Lencioni describes them, “messy, fallible, human creatures.” And aren’t they wonderful?


What we have learned over the years is that groups and teams of people are all influenced by the “wiring” of their members, and there is no escaping the effects of natural human behavior. Sometimes it can help a team, but when we don’t understand behavioral wiring, it will hold a team back and create frustration and disengagement.


Working with team members (or board members, in this case) to help them see themselves as both individuals and as a group allows them to develop a keener self-awareness and focus on how individuals aggregate into a collection of people who are expected to work together with a specific purpose. In the world of people science, equipping teams with objective and validated behavioral data helps take the mystery and drama out of human interactions. Surprisingly, this science has been around for many decades but has only recently been utilized with profound effect. We are able to look at people in a totally different context and truly understand how they can function together more effectively.


That different context is a framework we call “Head, Heart, and Briefcase” (see image below). It is a new way of looking at people, and each element is critical. We will examine people individually to understand how they offer a more complete picture of the team, but first let me share a quick definition of talent optimization, or TO, which is a framework that is applicable to all entities that involve people—corporations, fund boards, sales groups, and even sports teams. TO is the practice of aligning your talent strategy with your business strategy to get the results you need. Said in a different way: TO allows you to align your board’s talent with the board’s objectives to ensure that the board achieves its desired results.


In the interest of transparency: After much experience with various diagnostic tools, our firm has found The Predictive Index provides the depth and accuracy of behavioral and cognitive data most desirable for the work our clients do, and it was best aligned with a TO framework. There are a number of psychometric tools available that will support a TO initiative, though, as the framework is agnostic with regard to diagnostic tools. We strongly recommend the tools you select meet three criteria: They are validated, simple to use, and scalable.


The Head is where a person’s behavioral and cognitive traits exist. When it comes to behavior, we know that every human alive carries four primary behavioral drives:


  1. Dominance
  2. Extraversion
  3. Patience
  4. Formality


These drives are well established in a person from a very young age, and since we can measure them, they are highly predictive and prescriptive in today’s workplace scenarios. In other words, a person’s “behavioral DNA” provides great insight into how they will show up in the workplace and allows for guidance to place them in a role for which they are ideally suited.


The Predictive Index converts these various combinations of drives into one of 17 reference profiles (see image below). The profiles are a reliable tool to help gain a clearer perspective of how a person is “wired” and where there are similarities and differences relative to the people around them. Looking at the reference profiles of all sitting directors on a particular board helps you see the behavioral “mix” of that board. You may find you have many similar reference profiles and decide that over time, the board would benefit from some behavioral diversity with regard to the profiles. As a Captain, I can assure you that too many of us in one place will only make things complicated! Depending on the team’s objectives, some find great value in being intentional about assembling complementary profiles rather than too many of the same kind.

Further analysis allows us to view the 17 reference profiles in their unique groupings (see image below):


  • Exploring
  • Producing
  • Stabilizing
  • Cultivating
  • Flexing


It is at this point that we can be very intentional about knowing who is on our board and their unique characteristics compared to their fellow board members. The insights to a board’s makeup are also helpful. Do we have balance with our board’s reference profiles, or do we have a number of similar profiles represented? What does this say about how our board functions? How should we take this into consideration for committee assignments or succession planning? How might this help explain conflicts between board members? Are we utilizing the natural “wiring” of our board members effectively?


All of these questions are easier to answer with the right set of analytics.



Because we are talking about teams of people (like a board), we are able to analyze the combination of those 17 reference profiles and see what type of team they create. And there are nine different team types. In other words, in what might seem a random gathering of humans, we can actually map out each person’s unique behavioral qualities and what the aggregate looks like as a functional (or dysfunctional) team. Far too much time is wasted on the drama and emotion of team dynamics when people lack self-awareness, as well as the awareness of how their fellow board members are wired.

The Head is also where a person’s general cognitive ability resides. In the world of TO, we define general cognitive ability as a person’s capacity to deal with complexity. At work or on the fund board, every job carries with it a degree of complexity, and it is very helpful to be able to create alignment between the complexity of a job and a person’s ability to manage it. When that alignment is absent, it becomes very easy to blame the individual rather than realizing we may have put them in an impossible scenario.


The research is clear: When alignment to the job is confirmed by using behavioral and cognitive data to assure the individual is capable of managing the complexity of the job itself, the probability of greater performance is significantly higher. The only way to gather the data in the Head is with a validated, simple, and scalable psychometric tool; otherwise, you are just guessing, which rarely (or never) works out well.



This is the part of the person that holds their core values, interests, and passions. I would go so far as to say it also speaks to elements of cultural alignment with other groups. Put another way, does this person desire to be in an organization like ours that does what we do? We have several clients who have a very strong mission focus, and they have found it valuable to explore a ‘heart’ when it comes to hiring someone or inviting them to be part of the team.


While this can seem highly subjective, this is where a well-developed behavioral-based interview process can help. Since a board’s schedule tends to be spread out and time is of the essence when they meet, alignment around team norms, engagement, and treatment of each other becomes critical. The culture of a board can be a delicate matter, especially when certain members may not be in alignment around its purpose and may become a toxic variable that is hard to manage.


Indeed, heart issues are rather subjective, and they change over time. But a team that invests the time to assess if potential new members “have the heart” for what the team does and needs to accomplish will find a much better result.



This is one area presenting the greatest challenge to most organizations (or boards) that are recruiting new talent. In our world, the Briefcase represents a person’s credentials. It contains their knowledge, skills, and abilities—in other words, their resume. It’s safe to say that most organizations (boards included) look primarily, if not exclusively, at a candidate’s Briefcase when making the decision as to whether or not to extend an offer. This is the point of origin to really bad hiring decisions because of one undeniable truth: The Briefcase is the LEAST reliable predictor of performance. There is no correlation between a person’s credentials and their capability to perform the job as required. But the fact is we have relied on the Briefcase almost exclusively for far too long. Most hiring managers and talent acquisition professionals can attest to this. The Briefcase (resume) should not be the only variable considered when making hiring decisions.


Make no mistake, the Briefcase plays a critical role in establishing the minimum requirements, skills, or credentials a person must have to even be considered for a position, but that’s where the usefulness of the Briefcase ends; it provides the threshold a person must meet to be considered. That means every position in an organization requires a different level of Briefcase, and we should establish that before beginning to recruit.


There is a fundamental truth when it comes to relying solely on the Briefcase, and here it is: “People are hired for what they know (Briefcase). And they are fired for who they are (Head).” 


This is a common story in many organizations. We become enamored with a person’s credentials (work history, education, affiliations, etc.) and hire them only to find six months later that the person is a terrible fit with the team and creating a toxic environment. All of this can be avoided by the simple application of the right data in the right way.


The 'Whole' Person

When we consider the “whole” person and all three of the components (Head, Heart, and Briefcase), we get a much more complete idea of who this person is and how they will function as a member of the team or board. The Briefcase and the Heart provide a great basis for determining which candidate has the necessary skills and interests to step into a board role.


For example, you may have a member of the Audit Committee stepping off the board and you need someone with a Briefcase that has the financial skills and acumen needed to fill that spot. Fortunately, you have several candidates that have the right Briefcase. You also have a few that have demonstrated a real passion (Heart) for the work of the board, which is also encouraging. Now we need to look at the Head.


This is where the world of “people science” offers its greatest benefit. Through the use of a validated, simple, and scalable assessment, you can gather the critical behavioral data that will offer predictive as well as prescriptive information about how a person can be optimized as a member of your board. You want to be able to look at the Head, Heart, and Briefcase because the whole person always shows up. You cannot separate one from the others; it’s a package deal.


This is where teams and organizations can make the greatest impact on critical metrics like performance, engagement, and retention. This is where boards can see, in advance, the dynamics of the board itself, and provide board members with tools they can use to get to know each other better, communicate more effectively, and deal with conflict more constructively.


Here is a simple example from our experience with boards. The Predictive Index platform generates a very useful tool called The Relationship Guide. It takes the behavioral data of two people and creates a report that looks at three key areas for those two people:


  1. The Strengths possible within their relationship;
  2. The Caution areas where they could “bump” into one another, and;
  3. Specific relationship Tips that they can employ right away.


These types of tools are designed to shorten the amount of time it takes for people to get to know each other and their work styles and help them start off their relationship in a far more productive way.


Humans are truly interesting and complex. Fortunately, we are the beneficiaries of nearly 70 years of validated behavioral science that takes a lot of the guesswork out of human relationships. Boards that are using technology in the succession planning and recruitment process are finding a better way to function and ensuring there is meaning and fulfillment in their boardrooms. Yours could be next.

John F. Broer is a principal and co-founder of talent optimization consultancy Real Good Ventures. He is a frequently requested speaker and the creator and co-host of The Bosshole® Chronicles podcast.



Most Read

10 Things
10 read in summer 2024

It's the Summer Solstice, and that means that for most of us the sun is shining, temperatures are heating up, and longer days allow for pursuits ...

Top of the Agenda - Compensation
Fund board pay increases in 2023, MPI survey says

Independent mutual fund directors saw an increase in compensation in 2023, on average, although actual compensation levels and percentage adjustments in compensation continue to vary widely ...