4 Ways to Develop the Optimal Board

A new Korn Ferry report offers four key strategies to get the best out of your board and harness the power of ALL.

Today's boards are changing. They're becoming more inclusive, purposeful, and adaptable. And it's not just because of outside pressure—it's because they see the strategic value in it.

In a recent Korn Ferry survey of over 180 board members, 81% said they see the benefits of diversity and inclusion for the board. They know it leads to better problem-solving and more innovative ideas. But it's not enough to just have diverse faces around the table. Real inclusivity means every voice is heard and valued.

The most effective board isn’t just about ticking boxes—it sees inclusivity as an integral part of its board culture. We call them “ optimal boards.” Drawing from surveys, interviews, and extensive research, we have identified four key factors that define this type of board: promoting self-reflection and feedback, adopting inclusive onboarding practices, empowering directors in decision-making, and prioritizing adaptability and inclusivity. When boards focus on these areas, they build inclusive cultures that unlock the full potential of all their members.

Creating genuine inclusivity can be challenging. But with ongoing effort and collective commitment, it leads to a future where every voice at the table matters. And this ultimately creates value for both the board and the company.

4 Ways to Develop the Optimal Board

1. Encourage Self-Reflection and Feedback

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of effective governance. Our study reveals a significant gap between the perception of influence among board members—only 65% of women feel they influence decision-making compared to 81% of men. To bridge this gap, boards must foster a culture of open communication and regular self-reflection.

2. Adopt Inclusive Onboarding Practices

Onboarding isn't just about orientation—it's about integration. Robust onboarding practices, coupled with mentorship programs, pave the way for early contributions from new members. Yet, our findings show that only 38% of directors had a mentor or board buddy. By prioritizing inclusive onboarding, boards can ensure that every voice is heard and valued from the outset.

3. Empower Directors in Decision-Making

Respect, trust, and communication form the bedrock of strong board dynamics. Optimal boards ensure that all voices are not just heard but valued in decision-making processes. However, our study highlights a noticeable gap between white directors and directors of color: 76% versus 70% say they have impacted board decisions. By fostering an inclusive culture, boards can harness the power of all their members.

4. Make Adaptability and Inclusivity Top Priorities

Optimal boards are led by people who champion inclusion and create spaces for all voices to be heard. In fact, 82% of board members we surveyed feel their chair or lead director effectively encourages discussion and diverse perspectives. Despite this, our research reveals disparities in how white board leaders and leaders of color perceive their influence on boards: 78% versus 68% believe they’ve influenced the board to change its position on a decision. In a board’s culture, the chair or lead director is one of the people who make the difference—they decide who gets to speak, who gets proper onboarding, and who gets feedback. To cultivate an inclusive culture, board leaders must make space for every voice at the table. They need to ensure that 100% of the board—that means, every member regardless of background or role—influences the board’s approach.

Click on the image to read the full report. To find out how Korn Ferry helps boards harness the power of ALL, learn more about our Board & CEO Services capabilities.