Becoming Board Ready
Often, the boardroom seems like a mysterious and slightly daunting place. That’s why, as part of the Executive membership, we run a series of events shining light on how to get in and how to be prepared. April’s session was all about prep, and we welcomed speakers from France, Switzerland, the US and the UK to talk about their experiences of moving from executive to non-executive careers and how to combine the two.
Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between an executive and a non-executive role. The executive team (CEO, CFO, CRO etc.) are tasked with the day-to-day operational management of the organisation. Whereas the non-executive board oversees these decisions, offering challenge and support to those decision makers whilst remaining impartial and ensuring proper governance. The non-executive board also, rather than focusing on the coming twelve months, are often looking further ahead and considering a long-term strategy.
It might come as a surprise, but planning a transition into a non-executive role should start five, ten, even twenty years before you’re ready to make the move. A NED role should not be seen as another step in your existing career plan. It is an adventure in its own right and should be treated accordingly. Here are some of the things highlighted by our speakers to consider before embarking on said adventure.
Organisations are looking for breadth and depth of executive experience and, essentially, an ability to be independent with thoughts and comments. As boards are typically a small group discussing large and difficult topics, board members need to be able to articulate themselves respectfully and be at ease with interpersonal connectivity. The time commitment connected with a board role has also changed. It is no longer just quarterly meetings but also large amounts of prep with board papers and partaking in lunches and additional meetings with other board members. This is important when considering the financial implications of becoming a non-executive director as these roles are not remunerated like an executive role.
As with any career move, your network is essential, perhaps even more so in this case. Often, non-executive roles are shared through connections and word of mouth rather than traditional job postings. Not only is a network useful for being aware of the opportunities available but they can also provide guidance if you have people in your network who have started a portfolio career. As said by ISC Global Chair and Founder, Barbara Schonhofer, ‘networking is your due diligence’.
In addition to making your network work for you, you will also need to evaluate the value you would be bringing to a board and how your experience can translate into a new environment. Joining advisory committees with board access is a great way to build up your knowledge and gain some exposure. Many boards also have a skills matrix they want to fill out, so examine yourself against that list and see what you can bring. There are plenty of areas which boards may lack expertise in due to their burgeoning nature (think ESG topics, technology, diversity and inclusion) as shown below. If you are clear on your value in the context of a non-executive role, it will be much easier to articulate.
Another part of your arsenal, is a board specific CV. This is the space to articulate that value, along with highlighting strengths, why you’re interested in the role and your passion. Speaker Cris Baez (and incoming Chair of ISC France) spoke of her experience in writing her own CV. She ensured that her expertise in risk and compliance was highlighted as well as how that knowledge could be transferred onto specific committees. If you have experience from sitting on a charity/pro-bono board or executive committees, be sure to have that front and centre and always write a cover letter.
Inevitably, this path often poses greater challenge to women and especially women from underrepresented backgrounds but thanks to increasing regulation in many countries and investor expectations of more diverse boards, now is the time to be seeking out opportunities. Women specific networks and communities are great resources for finding opportunities and fostering connections. There are also plenty of executive search firms who can provide facilitation and access to help overcome additional barriers.
Thank you to our speakers for sharing their invaluable expertise and helping ISC Executive members to feel better equipped for the next stage of their careers.
Host – Belinda Schofield