Joining Boards: It’s Not Just Who You Know That Matters

HBR Blog Network For many, a corporate directorship is a career capstone. But attaining one is far from easy. 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 begins with, for example, a seat on a not-for-profit or community board and eventually results in appointment to a corporate board. Both paths are problematic — neither is particularly transparent or relies on objective measures and given that many boards are stubborn bastions of white masculinity, pursuing the "right" network can be fraught, especially for women and other diverse candidates. Indeed, our research reinforces that concern: many boards still rely on their own (mostly white, mostly male) networks to fill seats. There's a different way — one that is more measurable, controllable and offers greater transparency. It starts with a focus on skills. Although many boards continue to select new members from their own networks, our research suggests that more are beginning to implement objective processes to select members based on the skills and attributes that boards need to be effective. Our 2012 survey, in partnership with WomenCorporateDirectors and Heidrick & Struggles, of more than 1,000 corporate directors across the globe, found that only 48% of the boards had a formal process of determining the combination of skills and attributes required for their board and, therefore, for new directors We know this approach can work because we've seen it: We studied a large corporation that was being split into two public companies for which two new boards had to be created. The chairman wanted to create two balanced boards, with the mix of skills, knowledge, and experience each company needed. He appointed a special team to create an objective, transparent method for selecting the directors. After reviewing the roles and responsibilities of each board and the natures of the new businesses, the team derived lists of the skills each board needed. Then it created a model containing the dimensions critical to a high-performing board, from functional and industry expertise to behavioral attributes. This approach led both companies to recruit board members that were diverse in needed strategic skills. Both boards are on to a good start — demonstrating that when a firm builds a board using a rigorous assessment of the qualities it needs to carry out its governance task, rather than personal networks, the board is better equipped to execute its functions. In our survey, we also asked about specific skills. We wanted to know which were the strongest skills represented on boards and which were missing. Directors named industry knowledge, strategy, and financial-audit expertise as their strongest skill sets. And 43% cited technology expertise, HR-talent management, international-global expertise, and succession planning as the skills missing most on their boards. We also looked at results by industry and region. The industry with the greatest skills gap was IT & telecommunications, whose boards are in serious need of international-global expertise and HR-talent management. The region with the greatest board-level skills gap is Asia, where risk management and M&A adeptness are sorely needed. Based on our research and experience with boards, we believe that the future of director selection is becoming increasingly objective and skill-focused process. Networks aren't going away, but aspiring directors may want to approach their search by asking not only, "what skills do I need to get on a board?," but also by looking at what skills boards already possess and what skills boards need. One strategy might be...

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What The Age had to say about Board Diversity.

The Age recently featured an article about Board Diversity. Find out what they had to say here. 'Becoming a non-executive member of a board just got much easier following the launch of a website called Board Diversity.' The Age MyCareer

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How to Recruit a Digital Executive for Your Board

Even the casual observer has gotten the point by now: Corporate boards everywhere are seeking directors with digital expertise. Don’t despair if you haven’t signed one yet. Some of the most in-demand digital directors get 10 or more offers a year to serve on boards and, with challenging day jobs, can only pick one or two. That doesn’t mean you can’t recruit a highly desirable digital director; you just have to know how to go about it. Attracting and recruiting a new generation of directors requires more than compensation and the flattery of being asked to serve on a board. “Prove to me,” these directors say, “why is it in my interest to serve on your board?” Think in terms of three phases of recruitment to attract and retain digital executives who will contribute effectively to your board: 1. Before the recruitment: Present a united perspective on digital. Perceived inconsistency or lack of commitment to digital by board members may be a red flag for prospective directors. Make sure the board is aligned on the company’s digital strategy and the specific skills and attributes required for the board position. 2.  During the recruitment: Sell the opportunity.Does a younger generation of directors want to be compensated for their time and for sharing their expertise? Of course. But equally important is the chance to have an impact on a strategy and to bring lessons learned back to their own company. A board seat is increasingly viewed as a critical building block in an executive’s career. Think of it in terms of a courting process, rather than making a digital executive an offer he or she can’t refuse, and consider bridging any culture gaps, such as customary dress and other formalities, so you can focus on substance. 3.  After the recruitment: Don’t neglect follow-through. Determine how best to ensure the new director is fully engaged so there is not even a whiff of tokenism. Particularly with a first-time director, provide help so the new recruit can quickly contribute. That may require everything from an orientation pack with the “rules of the road,” to formal director education, to assigning an experienced mentor on the board, or another coach, to work with the new director. A board that is able to articulate clearly, internally and externally, what it is seeking in a digital director; that effectively communicates the opportunity; and that provides proper support for new directors will have an advantage in recruiting and retaining these directors in a competitive market. Nels Olson is Vice Chairman and Co-leader of Board & CEO Services and Drew Lipsher is Senior Client Partner Global Media at Korn/Ferry...

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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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Your Non-Executive Resume – 8 Points To Consider

YOUR BOARD (NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR) RESUME Writing a non-executive director (NED) resume is the best place to begin when considering your first, or subsequent board role. While there is no set template for what style or format your resume should take it must answer the central question any Chair/selection committee will want to know ‘Why should we appoint you?’ For this reason your Board resume must: demonstrate your success as at board level; be succinct and above all; be readable. A standard board resume is unlikely to run much over 2 pages – particularly as you should you be attaching a cover letter supporting your application. In rare cases you may wish to include an appendix page which outlines less pertinent roles or professional experience. The information below will help you think about what to include. 1. PHOTO: Including a photo is perfectly acceptable however by doing so can lead to discrimination based on your age, sex, disability or race - I recommend against it 2. BOARD PROFILE: Your profile should never be aspirational. It should outline your board or committee experience and the success your contributions as a board member has made to organisations in the past. Writing in the first person is fine but your profile should not exceed one paragraph. 3. BOARD & COMMITTEE SUCCESS: This section evidences your governance or strategic successes. Again, please be as specific as possible and include statistics or numerical evidence. 4. BOARD & COMMITTEE EXPERIENCE: In an executive resume this section comes after details of your executive career. Here it comes first. This section should outline in chronological order your current and past non executive or committee experience. Where you have been on board sub-committees or executive committees these can also be included. 5. EXECUTIVE CAREER: Whilst this section will begin with the same information as would be found in your executive resume it should be much shorter and only include headline successes and titles – ideally ones that can be evidenced. It is also important to include the scale of your company and responsibility within as this supports your experience. 6. QUALIFICATIONS & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: This will likely replicate the content of your executive resume. 7. EXTRA-PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES & INTERESTS: A list or explanation of any professional activities or personal interests that cannot be incorporated in the sections above for example: languages, awards, charity work, membership groups or personal successes. 8. REFERENCES: Many Chairs/selection committees head straight to this section. They are interested to know if they know your referees. For this reason it is important to include the most relevant referees on your CV. This may not always mean the most significant individual you have worked with. It could mean that you include a referee that knows the Chair of the board you are applying to join. If you would like a hand writing your first board resume or tidying up an existing one we can help. If you contact us this week we are offering a 50% discount on the usual fee. Contact us at contact@boarddiversity.com.au or via the contact section of this...

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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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Possible non-executive interview questions

Some of the following questions may be asked of you in a non executive director interview. General Opening Questions Can you briefly tell us a little about yourself and the synergies that exist between your experience and what is required by this board? Why does this role appeal to you? Why are you considering it now? What is your honest opinion of our organisation? What should we be doing differently? Governance Style  How “hands on” are you as a non-executive?  To what extent are you interested in operational detail? In your opinion, what conditions are absolutely necessary to ensure good governance? What are the warning signs that usually precede a breakdown in good governance? What do you think the board’s role is in relation to development of strategy?  How do you think the board should engage with executive management in this process? Some directors thrive on working through challenging circumstances, but is there a point at which challenge can go too far. What are your thoughts on this? What does board diversity mean to you, and what do you think a diverse board would look like at our organisation? What do you consider to be the role of a non-executive director?  How would you seek to clarify your role, if unclear? How would you describe your style as a non-executive director? What do you believe are the characteristics of an effective board?? What, in your view, is the leadership role of a non-executive? How would you describe the ideal executive/non-executive relationship? What would your relationship with our chair like? How would you support and complement the Chair’s role? Commercial/business acumen What relationships / contacts do you have with our key stakeholders? How would you recommend we achieve our purpose and financial goals? What could be further commercial opportunities for an organisation like ours? What do you think of our structure and governance arrangements? What does the current economic climate mean for us?  What are the threats and opportunities? Do you think you have the necessary experience to help guide us through economic turbulence?  Please give some relevant examples. How do you feel your own background and experience could directly add value to our organisation? The Organisation What do you perceive are our current strategic considerations? Are we doing enough to equip our members/clients/stakeholders for the challenges of the future? Who do you consider to be our key stakeholders now and how may that change over the next 10-15 years? What do you think our members/clients/stakeholders expect from us?  How can we exceed these expectations? What do you consider will be the key challenges facing our sector in the next 5-10 years? Administrative This role is not remunerated/remunerated at $XXXXX.  Could you confirm that you are comfortable with this? How many other directorships do you have? Could you confirm that you are able to commit to the time required to perform effectively as a board member? Is there anything that could potentially delay your availability to join our board? Do you have any concerns about joining this board? Are you aware of any potential conflicts of interest? Closing questions Is there anything we didn’t ask you that you wanted to talk to us about? Do you have any questions for us? For more information about how to prepare for a Non-Executive interview contact us...

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Six things to consider when thinking about a non-executive career

The best advice I could give any individual wanting a board position or portfolio career is to start preparing immediately.  Many directors describe finding their first directorship as an arduous and time consuming process. So, the biggest mistake many people make when retiring from executive duties, or individuals considering a portfolio career, is not starting the search process early enough. There are 6 things that I recommend all aspiring directors to consider. They are: manage your expectations; understanding and being clear about what you have to offer; develop personal connections; understand how to get advice and use recruiters; update your non executive CV/Resume; write a strong cover letter.   1.       Manage your expectations: Many experienced but aspiring directors expect their first board role to be remunerated. These sorts of board roles are highly sort after and may involve competitive application processes. Without demonstrable experience at board level getting this type of role can be very challenging. Instead, consider applying for unpaid board positions in not for profit or smaller organisations. These roles are a terrific launch pad for larger, or paid, directorships in the future.  Alternatively, consider volunteering for an organisation that you are passionate about – your local sporting team or a charity you support. Not only does it allow you to contribute but it also demonstrates your passion for governance, your willingness to give your time. Regardless of whether the position is unpaid or not it should never be treated as a stepping stone to something ‘better’ but rather, than an opportunity to contribute and build your board skills. In fact, most established directors describe their small or unpaid directorships the most enjoyable part of their portfolio career.    2.       What do you have to offer?: Understanding what it is you offer a board is absolutely essential. You should know and practice your ‘elevator pitch’ and be clear on the successes you have had and the experience you bring. More and more boards want not just your professional experience but access to your networks developed through your existing non executive or executive career so again being clear about what you bring to a board in this regard is key. Additionally, boards are often just as interested in your passion for their organisation as your skill set so make sure you know why you want to apply. If you can’t think of a reason why you want to be a director for that company then perhaps it is worth reconsidering your application.   3.       Personal Connections & Networking: The appointment process for board or advisory panel roles in many cases is not dissimilar to that of any other appointment process. Many find that the majority of opportunities are never advertised and are filled by word of mouth or through existing relationships. Therefore developing ‘personal connections’ is vital and should form the basis of any search process. As a general rule I advise my clients that 30% of their time should be focused on developing and maintaining their own brand and personal connections. There are unlimited ways that this might occur but I find the most effective can be: actively using LinkedIn, twitter or a blog; maintaining relationships with colleagues (past or present); making mutually beneficial introductions between your connections; writing articles in trade magazines etc or presenting at conferences or attending conferences/training events.   4.       Getting advice and using executive recruiters: Executive recruiters or ‘headhunters’ are a great source of information and often have access to opportunities that you might not know about or are never advertised. Working effectively with them is key. You should endeavour to maintain a frequent (though not annoying!) contact and strong relationship with these firms and their consultants so that you remain at the forefront of their minds should an appropriate vacancy become available.  Often they have mentoring or board coaching sessions available which can be invaluable.   5.       Your CV/Resume: Many people assume that their executive CV is appropriate for board...

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How to research for a board application – transcript of webinar

Introduction Transcript of Research board applications webinar. The purpose of this video is to help those of you who are interested in finding a board or non-executive role and need some guidance in how research in preparation for a board application. This is one of a number of clips designed to aid you in the non-executive application process and dovetails with our Board Cover Letter writing webinar.  This clip is brought you to you by Board Diversity (boarddiversity.com.au). Board Diversity was created in the belief that diverse boards make better decisions and that, as an individual looking to build a portfolio career or an aspiring board director, finding a non-executive role should not be difficult. To this end Board Diversity equips members you to develop a board career through practical services (like Board Access – a job board exclusively advertising hundreds of non-executive vacancies) and exclusive networking groups. Background Research is by far the most important element of any application or board role hunting process. Though, conversely, probably the most under-utilised and also the most difficult thing to motivate yourself to undertake - it is even harder to do well. However, I guarantee that if you do this properly you will never regret it. Most people consider research something desk based and done primarily online and it is done only twice (at best) in an application or job hunting process. Once when they see the job advertised, and secondly before an interview. Taking this approach will not differentiate you from any other candidate which is, of course, the whole point of your application process – to dare them not to see you! Online & desk based research should only be undertaken as a basis for more indepth work. The research that is most effective can only be gained when you leave your desk or by speaking to people directly. In my experience conducting the following will go a long way to separate you from other applicants and dramatically increase your chance of being appointed. Content Firstly, I recommend that you visit the organisation personally to get a feel for the culture and set up and size. See if you can find someone you know who knows the organisation ask them whether they know what they think of the organisation,  chief executive or board?' . If appropriate take them into your confidence and ask them to introduce you to someone internally. Alternatively, speak with a competitor and ask them what they think of the organisations services/products, and their strengths and weaknesses. I always use my job applications as an excuse to speak with my peers or better still to the peers of the person who might employ me. A particularly effective approach is, once known, to set up a telephone call, and tell them that you are thinking of applying for a board role at X and as they have been in the sector for a while and that you were hoping that they might be able to provide a perspective on what they do. Ask if they could spare five minutes to provide some insights?' This can be a daunting approach for some but you will have achieved a couple of things by doing it: you will have generated or regenerated a valuable connection  and you will have gained an invaluable insight into the business. Speaking to the person handling the application process is essential so, Only at this point, after you have done your research, should you approach the contact you have for the position. Never just ask ‘Can you tell me about the job?’ instead try ‘Hello, I would like to speak to you about the...

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Writing a board cover letter – transcript of webinar

Introduction The purpose of this video is to help those of you who are interested in finding a board or non-executive role and need some guidance in how to write a cover letter suitable for a board application. This is one of a number of clips designed to aid you in the non-executive application process and dovetails with our Board Resume writing webinar.  This clip is brought you to you by Board Diversity (boarddiversity.com.au). Board Diversity was created in the belief that diverse boards make better decisions and that, as an individual looking to build a portfolio career or an aspiring board director, finding a non-executive role should not be difficult. To this end Board Diversity equips members you to develop a board career through practical services  (like Board Access – a job board exclusively advertising hundreds of non-executive vacancies) and exclusive networking groups. Background In the past, cover letters were deemed to be good enough if they simply introduced you and your interest in the role and then referred the reader to your attached CV. They were often too brief, functional at best, added no additional value and for this reason they were rarely read. Regardless of whether you are responding to an advertisement, using a recruiter or approaching a company directly in a post GFC labour market where the number of people desiring board roles far outweighs board opportunities cover letters form a crucial part of your application process.  Today, a cover letter matters. A well written, succinct and evidence based cover letter that demonstrates that you are qualified and passionate is essential and has become and offers the first chance to separate yourself from other job seekers and dares them not to see you. They are now a valuable resource carefully read by employers and strong applicants know this. Furthermore, a strong cover letter demonstrates you are much more than just your CV. But for a cover letter to be of any value it needs to be both accessible and readable. Content Let’s begin with accessibility: Because cover letters are still often seen to be of little value there is a temptation by some to skip over them. To ensure that your cover letter is easily accessible it should where ever possible be placed both in the body of your email application and included as part of your resume i.e. not saved as a separate attachment in the same document as your board resume. By including it in your email and also in your resume you ensure that it is much more likely to be read and therefore begins the process of distinguishing you from other applicants. Secondly, having made it accessible you must then make it readable. First and foremost it should never be more than a single page long and ideally a good deal shorter. To help you do this break down the cover letter down into 5 paragraphs each dealing with a different aspect of your application. Only at this point, only after you have done your research, should you reply to the job advertisement or speak with the contact you have for the board rolek If you are interested in how to research effectively and generate new personal connections please see our Board Research video. The first paragraph must grab the attention of the reader so it should demonstrate your passion for the role: Board want members who are intelligent, qualified AND passionate about what they do. So this paragraph is not a statement about your understanding of the company, where you saw the job advertised or what the role is that you are applying for. Instead it must demonstrate your passion for the role of a board director....

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