At Paul Starbuck and Associates, we often work with clients who are on the verge of a transition; a coveted role amongst senior executives is that of the non-executive director.
Advisors in matters such as policy-making and planning, NED’s hold board members accountable for acting in the interests of the business. Many executives believe that transitioning to a NED role will be an easy move and that because of their boardroom experience finding a position will be a breeze.
According to Better Boards, however, only a small percentage of executives who embark on the journey to becoming a NED actually succeed.
In this article, we look at why so many executives are unsuccessful in their endeavour and give you a glimpse into how we support our clients who wish to transition into their first NED role and build a portfolio career.
“If you’re looking for a career change, you better change.”
A different approach
As a NED, your overall approach in the boardroom will be different. You won’t be there as a business leader or decision maker; you’ll be both a critical, overseeing pair of eyes and an inspiring supporter.
Boards review performance, solve problems and strategize. Their scope is wide; they’ll look at issues such as growth, legislation, regulations, policies, competitors, shareholder expectations, emerging technologies, governance, and people.
They aren’t looking for another c-suite director or someone who will dominate the conversation and push their own agenda. They need someone with a diverse skill set and well-rounded market knowledge, who can act as an independent advisor to help them reach their goals. Using a fine balance of challenge and support, NED’s need to ask the right questions to encourage boards to think differently and see things more clearly.
Are you NED-ready?
According to nedonboard.com, there are certain attributes you will have gained as an executive which will translate well to the NED role; analytical and creative thinking, problem solving and teamwork, to name a few.
You will also need to be independent, both in your connection to the organisation and in your thought process. You must be confident enough to ask tough questions on behalf of the shareholders and be able to identify and challenge decisions which may be risky. At the same time, you must be supportive and offer advice based on your own sound judgement.
It’s actually rare to find an executive who is NED role ready and who doesn’t need to work on themselves ahead of the move. For this reason, if you’re contemplating the transition, it’s best to think in terms of years and not months.
Did you know that already having NED experience is usually a requirement?
Competition for NED roles is fierce, with every good position attracting hundreds of applications, you need to be at the top of your game. So, even though you may be lucky enough to find a chair who is prepared to give you an opportunity without experience, many execs first volunteer in this position for a non-profit organisation.
The Recruitment Process
When recruiting for other corporate positions, a candidate can be only an 85% fit for the role and still be included in the recruitment process; the understanding being that they can grow and learn on the job. In the NED role, however, there is typically no training - so the board are looking for as near to 100% perfect as they can achieve.
If the board have stated they are looking for someone with M&A experience, for example, even if you’ve been a CEO or are an experienced NED – if you don’t have M&A experience, then don’t expect a phone call.
You need to think hard about what you are good at that boards will be interested in, and then evidence it in your CV. Boards aren’t concerned in what roles and responsibilities you’ve had or even what qualifications you’ve gained, they’re interested in the transferable skills, knowledge and experience you can bring to the boardroom to help move their business forwards.
The NED CV is typically a single side of A4, (2 sides at a push). It should first highlight your areas of expertise (strategic planning, business transformation, financial control etc), followed by your board experience. It should also detail relevant key deliverables and professional developments you have undertaken that are pertinent to the role.
“A good NED CV is a sales document, which outlines your unique value proposition for a board and demonstrates the skills, expertise and experience that a board is looking to recruit.”
NED On Board
At Paul Starbuck and Associates, we can support you in the development of your NED CV. We offer anything from a one-off CV builder session to tailored, longer-term packages of transitional support.
The Application Process
The application process for a NED role may be a little different to what you are accustomed to.
For instance, the chances of getting a NED role within an organisation if you don’t know anybody in the boardroom is slim to none. If there’s a recruiter or head-hunter involved, this may increase your chances, but typically, NED roles are filled from the boards' own network. Even in the public sector, where roles need to be advertised, it’s still usually an individual known to someone on the board who gets the role.
So, you know what that means…
Networking is key
If the thought of networking fills you with a sense of dread, all is not lost - we are here to help!
We know networking isn’t everybody's cup of tea, but it’s a skill that can be acquired. With our support, you can polish up your skills, build your confidence and learn to work a room like a pro.
“Networking is the No. 1 unwritten rule of success in business.”
Thankfully, not all networking has to involve awkward meetings over hors d’oeuvres; social networking sites such as LinkedIn are also a great place to build on your contacts and get yourself noticed.
Your social networking account should showcase you as a NED, or in other words, who you would be if you were already an NED. You need to market yourself for the job you wish to attain and not the one you already have.
Put yourself in the recruiter’s position; what do you think they are looking for? How can you present that on your LinkedIn profile?
As well as helping you to work on your networking skills, we can also support you in designing a NED-ready LinkedIn profile, fit for a board.
Once your profile is up to scratch, you should start to strategically expand your network. Consider people in your existing network; is anybody you know well-connected? Can you approach them for introductions? Think about whom you want to work for and be targeted in your approach; take an interest in the company and interact with key contacts.
Do keep in mind, however, that everything you do on networking platforms will be scrutinised by recruiters.
“LinkedIn is no longer an online resume. It’s your digital reputation.”
In the corporate world, most roles you interview for will follow the same process: CV screening, first-level interview/competency screening, line manager interview with a presentation and then a final sign-off interview with the boss’s boss.
When it comes to NED interviews, however, each one may be entirely different from the rest.
We have a client who was asked competency questions by a panel of 7 recruiters for 90 minutes. Clients who’ve sat down for coffee/dinner/drinks with a chair and had a casual chat. Some have met with shareholders and CEOs as part of the process and one even had to attend separate meetings with several board members, all asking different questions about the business, their sector, and the problems they were facing.
In other words, there is no set structure. You must be as prepared to answer competency questions, as you are to showcase that you can bring alive the boardroom with your charisma and charm.
Boards are also looking for diversity – not just in terms of gender/race etc - but diversity of thought; this is especially of interest to boards who are having issues solving problems. If you’re interviewing for a different sector, highlight how you, having an alternative approach to problem-solving, could help them to move past their issues by bringing a fresh perspective.
Like with any interview, preparation is so important. Boards tend to hire NEDs who share the same vision as they do, so do your research into the company and the board and stress the value you could bring to the party.
The interview process is also an opportunity for you to get a feel for if the role is a good fit for you.
According to nurole.com, the typical range for a NED to work is 10 – 40 days a year. How much time are you willing to commit? Are meetings always face-to-face, virtual or hybrid? Also, what are their expectations of you as a NED? Can you add the value they require?
It’s all about talking it through, to ensure that the move is going to work for both parties.
Another important aspect to consider is that as a NED, you will have the same legal responsibilities as any other director. As your role will primarily be to hold the board accountable, if something goes wrong in the boardroom, expect to be asked why you weren’t all over it.
You must be confident in your abilities to oversee and call out risky behaviour.
You can, of course, buy directors and liability insurance (which we suggest you have for a period of 2 years after leaving any director position), but with good governance, you shouldn’t need it.
It’s a journey, not a destination
There is a lot to consider when transitioning careers and moving from being an executive director to a NED, is no different. What made you successful in your executive career is not necessarily what will make you successful in your NED role. You need to be prepared to change the way that you work and be open to learning new skills.
At Paul Starbuck and Associates, we have helped hundreds of clients to transition and build a portfolio, non-executive career including.
We can support you in understanding the NED role and coach you through the process of achieving that position. We do this by helping you to recognise your own strengths and showing you how to market them to boards through your CV and LinkedIn.
We also work with you to identify and fill any skill gaps you might have and then develop your confidence around networking, so you can have great conversations which will lead to new opportunities.
Transitioning from being an executive to a non-executive role isn’t easy; you must be prepared to put the work in if you wish to succeed. We can support you on that journey and hold you accountable for achieving your goals.
Let us help you to get NED-ready.
Your non-executive portfolio career awaits…