Insights to Action: Joining Private, Crown, or Corporate Boards
Explaining how established Directors on volunteer Boards can position themselves to join Private, Crown, or Corporate Boards. The transition from volunteer Boards to paid Boards can often be an enigma: a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation, referred to as the “Code-Cracking Challenge”. This article addresses this challenge by providing a synthesis of sage advice from established Corporate Directors and Consultants involved in the Corporate Director selection process.
The question that arises for many aspiring corporate directors is: how do I get there? A helpful starting point is Claire Braund’s article, “How to get a boardroom position: practical tips for success”, published on The Guardian website in August 2013. I have amalgamated Braund’s tips with my own to provide you with a top ten list of Insights to Action.
Why are you interested in sitting on a Corporate Board?
1) Consider your motivation for being a Board member. Do you believe Board service can be professionally and personally rewarding, and that Boards need executives who are both experienced and dedicated? Do you have the capacity to fully commit to serving on a corporate Board? Does this fit into your plans for the longer term, such as to remain engaged in the final stages of your professional life?
What would you bring to the corporate Board / can you make a contribution?
2) Consider what value you add to a Board by matching your skillset to the needs identified by the Board.
3) Define your ideal Board opportunity by considering the industries or economic sectors and types of organizations (big, medium, or small business) you understand and are most interested in and best suited to, by reflecting on the skills and experiences you possess that would be of value to the company. Be realistic with your corporate Board targets based on your sector expertise and personal interest. If your experience is unlikely to get you invited to a large blue chip company, consider mid‑sized companies, private companies, or crown corporations.
How will you increase your share of opportunities to sit on a corporate Board?
4) Demonstrate your value by having a good Board-ready CV, consisting of two pages of governance experience and skills you bring, including key words around competence (wisdom and good judgement), sectoral knowledge and areas of speciality/expertise. Above all, know what value you bring to a Board and be able to state it clearly to compare favourably with other candidates.
5) Have a professional pitch: your two-page Board CV should contain a summary and a colloquial (conversational) version of your summary, which is your pitch.
6) Be prepared to do your succinct pitch (which Braund refers to as “the ask”) with influential people who can help you; do not waste their time with idle chat. You must be top of mind when there is a need, so show your courage and your determination by making yourself known to members of the nominations committee, the Chair and the CEO. Stand out from your peers and show your genuine interest. Most often, the deciding factor will be name recognition by a director on the Board who knows you or has worked with you before.
7) Consider the people who know you. Make a list of those people and what they know about you: each connection must count. Ask yourself how many people really know of your Board aspiration, and let others know you are interested in serving on a corporate Board.
Three additional “How” tips not included in Braund’s article
8) Consider having a virtual group of handpicked advisors, between three to five people, who will give you honest feedback about Board opportunities you are pursuing, including whether or not you should pursue higher ambitions.
9) Develop good references to help decision makers evaluate intangible qualities such as your character, skills as a collaborator and communicator, and your commitment to serve).
10) Cultivate relationships with search consultants who do this work so that they know you and your sector expertise. Executive Search Firms for a first corporate Board seat may be helpful for medium to large organizations, whereas small organizations usually find prospective members through word-of-mouth. As Julie Hembrock Daum of Spencer Stuart writes:
“Corporate Board recruiting generally takes place in confidence. Corporate Boards don’t announce when they are looking for directors and don’t publicly seek nominations. The nomination committee runs the selection process, usually in collaboration with the CEO. Before considering candidates, Boards first review their near- and long-term strategies, and determine what knowledge and skills will help them achieve the company goals. They perform a gap analysis based on the skills of the existing Board and on which of those skills they might lose with upcoming retirements.”
In conclusion, aspiring corporate directors should start with a focus on competence. In the July 2013 Harvard Business Review article, “Joining Boards: It’s Not Just Who You Know that Matters”, authors Groysberg and Bell explain that no one can say for sure how to get on a corporate Board, but many people point to two routes: the first is to break into the ‘right’ network and the second is to seek a progression of Board seats that begin with non-for-profit Boards. However, their global research suggests that more Boards are beginning to implement objective processes to select members based on the combination of skills and attributes the Board needs to be effective. Their research also indicates that the strongest skills or areas of expertise the corporate directors bring to their Board are: industry knowledge, strategy, and financial auditing. Research also indicated that there are skills and areas of expertise insufficiently represented on many Boards: technology, HR-talent management, and international expertise. They conclude by saying networks aren’t going away and aspiring corporate directors should assess the skills they need to get on a Board, but more importantly they should look at what skills Boards already possess and what skills Boards need.
In general, to best position yourself to get on a corporate Board, you need to market the skills that Boards need year after year.
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