How to win a board position

Preparation and forethought are prerequisites to obtaining a board role.  From the perspective of an office junior or intern, taking a seat at a boardroom table can seem an impossible dream. But commitment and persistence pay off, and a career puncuated by achievement can eventually mark you as a genuine contender. You're unlikely to be successful at your first attempt, counsels Dr Judith MacCormick, a partner and CEO at recruitment firm Heidrick & Struggles. “Once an individual starts the process, they can expect at least 18 months before they get their first gig, with a few false starts along the way,” MacCormick says. “It's highly unlikely that someone will get the first board role. But through the process they should embrace every opportunity offered and go to interviews and learn as much as they can about what it takes to get a board role.” For Caltex Australia corporate counsel Irina Zvereva, it took more than a year before she acquired a board position on the NSW Procurement Industry Advisory Board. Last year she attended a couple of courses to help her prepare for board roles. “The preparation was intensive, but I needed to do this before I felt ready to apply for any positions," she says. "The courses also helped me to prepare my resume so that I had a board-ready resume. This is different from a normal resume. I had to highlight the skills that were relevant for a board position.” Zvereva applied for 10 board roles before landing one. “For the roles I missed out on, I discovered that I was against 150 to 200 candidates; it's competitive, but I hit the right target with my skills set when I landed the procurement role. I have a lot of experience in commercial procurement, and this is what got me over the line and the board position.” Zvereva advises potential board candidates to prepare a resume with the right skillset for the relevant board position. Next, become a member or attend courses with the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) or an organisation such as Women on Boards. These offer extensive courses and seminars, networking and mentoring programs, and also list and advertise board positions. People typically join the AICD when they are starting to think about taking on a directorship role, says the Institute's manager of board and corporate service, Gabrielle Schroder. “We assist them through providing access to director education; facilitating connections for mentorship, directorship opportunities and profile development," she says. "We encourage executives to start early and think early about the skills, experiences and attributes that they can bring to a board. Diversity is important. The more experience across sectors and companies all contribute to the value a person brings." Dr MacCormick agrees that successful applicants for board roles have typically built a diverse range of skills and knowledge. “They want to make a difference to the board and they have a strong desire to share and contribute their skills and knowledge. They have a greater understanding of the marketplace,” she says. “Stakeholders such as investors, consumers, suppliers and employees have a vested interest in the company and who runs their board. Boards are looking for people with specialised skills. For example, they may want someone who understands the digital side of their business, or investments, or someone who understands joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions.” MacCormick says having a minimum of three years' experience in one area is important as it demonstrates the candidate has gained a deeper understanding of the business in question. “This length of time shows that you have been through the...

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Is your network stale rather than shallow?

Often I find that my coaching clients, faced with an impending job change - voluntary or involuntary - realise very quickly that their contact network is "stale" and rather shallow. It is MUCH easier to maintain and nourish your network on an ongoing basis rather than play "catch-up" when you find yourself in need of help from others. Your network of business, professional and personal contacts is the most valuable and transportable asset you have. A properly nourished and up-to-date network can truly work wonders for your career. Make a commitment NOW to begin getting your contact network house in order. Consider the following Plan. Assimilate Names. Begin gathering the names of ALL of your current and past business, professional and personal contacts. Think in terms of categories of people within the context of how you knew them or dealt with them: Former colleagues at each of your specific former employers, college and university contacts (alumni networks are an excellent source for these names), community and professional organizations, boards and committees you served on, current and former vendors, current and former customers, athletic teammates, club members, church members, friends, family, etc., etc. Update Contact Information. As you assimilate names, gather current contact information -- Home address, home phone, cell phone, personal email address, business email address. A current email address and current cell phone number are the two best pieces of information you can gather, at least initially. Make note of the context of the relationship as well. Utilize a Contact Management System. Enter your contact information into your favorite Contact Management System -- Microsoft Outlook, ACT, Goldmine, Google Contacts, etc. Stick to ONE system and update it thoroughly. This can be a major task, depending upon the number of contacts. Solicit the help of an administrative assistant, an intern/college student or a family member to help you get it done. "A, B, C" Your Contact List. As you enter your contacts into your Contact Management System, I recommend that you make a notation as to the "quality and depth" of the relationship you have with each contact. A simple "A, B, C" ranking input into a field in the database can accomplish this for you. An "A" contact is someone you feel is definitely an advocate or champion of yours -- someone who, without question, would have great things to say about you. "C" contacts are individuals that you do not know very well at all, and "B" contacts are those that are neither an "A" or a "C" -- you know them fairly well or very well but they're not necessarily individuals you'd consider advocates or champions. Initiate Contact with Everyone Within the Next 30 Days. Begin the process of initiating contact with everyone on your network within the next 30 days. Drop a quick email to say "hello" or send an email simply updating your contact information. Continue the process of updating current contact information for those candidates with missing or outdated information. Set a goal to have information as complete as possible on all contacts within 30 days; also set a goal of having contacted all of those individuals for whom you have contact information within that same 30 day period. Include your COMPLETE contact information in your email signature block. Also, include a link in your email signature block to your personal website if you have one, to your LinkedIn profile, to any blog(s) you host, to your Facebook profile or other similar online portals. Make it EASY for everyone to find your most up-to-date information. Maintain Ongoing Contact. Once you've re-established contact with your network, the next...

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Connectedness – the new differentiator

Back in 2005 Thomas Friedman wrote about the globalized world in his bestseller book ‘The World Is Flat’. The world was inthe process of being transformed to a level – and global – playing field opening up new opportunities.  7-8 years later Friedman’s observations of the early adopters have become mainstream business. But, one of the consequences of opening up the world is that we are left with an overwhelming amount of information and options.  What we need is the ability to take advantage of globalisation, without getting caught up in examining and analysing the huge sea of endless information, and variety of choice. This is where ‘connectedness’ comes in. Given that it is impossible for us to read everything and speak to everyone, we need to be connected to people we trust to bring us relevant resources to our attention. The better these connections are, the better the result will be. We use the term ‘Connectedness’ to describe the concept of being ‘smartly’ connected.  When you are smart about the connections you establish and maintain, you keep a balance between the following aspects: Quality vs. quantity: Having too many connections is distracting and with too few you become too reliant. Diversity vs. conformity: Diversity is critical for innovation and conformity may better serve continuous improvement Open vs. closed: Having unique connections that no one else have can put you in a better position, but a closed network can also bring much needed focus and attention Depending on your business objectives you set the appropriate balance to deliver the best outcome. Connectedness is applicable at individual, team, business unit, organisation and inter-organisational levels. High performing individuals are exactly that because they are able to get things done faster by leveraging their connections to access resources. This is true for all organisational levels. Connectedness doesn’t happen by chance, but fortunately it isn’t all the difficult. First you need to determine what your network looks like today, and then you need to figure out what it should look like to enable you to meet the demands of the future. Advances in both mapping and visualisation techniques greatly assist in making it much more accessible for mainstream businesses. Being ‘smart’ about building your connections for the future will optimise the investment where it provides the highest return. What’s the point of being connected to 100 people if you can develop a close relationship with one person who already knows the same 100 people? ‘Smart networking’ is about understanding the various roles that people play in connecting you with the resources you need. ‘Central connectors’ are those people around you who know lots of other people. Examples of central connectors include head-hunters, politicians and journalists. These people can be of very high value providing access to resources you might not have discovered, or might not be able to access directly. ‘Brokers’ are those who connect communities of otherwise disconnected people. For example, think of a person who is an accountant during the day, but plays in a band in the evenings. Brokers play a special role as potential innovators being able to solve problems by seeing solutions through their experiences drawn from various different communities. Finally, we have the ‘peripheral specialists’ who have special knowledge, but often operate as lone wolves. You will need these people for their deep insights. But, if those are the only ones you know you risk missing out on the multiplier effect you can get from the relationships connectors and brokers can bring to bear. Trusting that your network will provide access to the resources you need is a departure from the ‘island’...

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Companies with ‘Networked’ Board Directors have 85% Higher Growth Rates!

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported an article on the ASX 200 Corporate board interlocks, which highlights the board interlocks effect introduced in our last article on "The Sisterhood Goes Missing at Board Level". The article identifies the key board interlocks between some of Australia's largest companies. They nominated Lindsay Maxsted, with his board memberships of BHP Billiton, Transurban and Westpac, placing him at the lead of a list of high powered corporate influencers. Perhaps we can’t claim a cause and effect relationship here, but what we can say, from our latest research studying board interlocks from ASX stock exchange data, that companies that employ board members from our list of 334 ‘Networked’ non-executive directors achieved a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in revenue of on average 15.5% in 9 years since 2004, as opposed to 8.4% for those that didn’t. For the statistically minded, the t-test results showed p = 0.018 (over a 98% confidence level).  Even for market capitalisation growth, the results were 15.9% against 10.5% (p = 0.099).  Our definition for identifying whom should be on our ‘Networked’ list of elites was that they had to be a non-executive director and served on at least 2 boards in common with another director. In essence we were looking for directors who had the best opportunity for bringing diversity of thought and opinions to their boards by being both independent and connected through joint board memberships. We then strengthened this qualifier by saying that not only did they need to sit on multiple boards, they needed to share a board interlock with at least one other director. The rationale was that a ‘multiple director interlock’ is likely to have far more influence than a single director interlock. With this stringent qualifier, the list of over 9,000 non-executive directors is whittled down to just 334, representing some 1100 companies of the 2,500+ listed companies on the ASX. The economy has been through some major ups and downs since 2004. We therefore chose to only include those companies that had been listed for the whole period from 2004 to 2012 and had reported annual revenues and share market valuations, which provided 583 companies. In this way we were only assessing companies that had demonstrated some level of longevity and sustainability. Of the 583 companies, 238 had board members from our list of ‘Networked Elites’, leaving 345 who didn’t. You may recall from our previous article on “The Sisterhood goes Missing at Board Level” that we intimated that we believed it was as much the independence of the non-executive director role as the gender effect that would impact mostly on firm performance. We therefore set out to explore this further using the Thomson-Reuters ASX data. Initially we sorted companies by the percentage of independent board members that they employed. While we found a higher average CAGR for market value it was not statistically significant. There was no real difference in CAGR for revenue. We also partitioned our sample based on the % female board members and also failed to find any significant differences (in contrast to other research reports). It wasn’t until we partitioned the sample based on our ‘Networked Elites’ that the significant performance differentials were identified, providing strong evidence that having networked non-executive members on your board can be good for your financial health. Is this hard evidence that social capital is indeed driving financial capital? So what are the Possible Implications from these Findings? One can easily jump to a conclusion that the members of our list of ‘networked elites’ form the core of a hidden network of company directors who have a major...

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