How to become a non-executive director: 5 things to contemplate when considering a NED career
Jes Ladva, Partner, Odgers Interim and Odgers Connect, explains how you can tell if you have what’s required for a non-executive director role – and how to get yourself NED-ready if you’re not quite there yet.
There are plenty of good reasons to become a non-executive director. It’s a fulfilling way of broadening your horizons and contributing to the success of an organisation. And if you are still working in an executive role, a means of boosting your career. All of which adds up to good NED positions being highly sought-after and competition to secure these roles is strong.
As discussed with my colleague, Mark Freebairn, Head of Board Practice at Odgers Berndtson and Richard Meddings, one of the most accomplished board chairs and newly appointed Chair of NHS England, the role of the NED has perhaps never been as important as it is now.
Richard said: “As we face the range of STEEPLE [Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, and Ethical] challenges globally and locally, NEDs provide the necessary insight, inquiry and foundations to all manner of organisations in transforming these challenges into opportunities.
“It’s a very demanding time to be a NED, for anyone pursuing a NED portfolio it is increasingly important to carefully consider this transition and then to thoroughly prepare.”
So, how you can tell if you have what’s required for a non-executive director role? And how can you get yourself NED-ready if you’re not quite there yet?
Here are 5 things to consider in preparing yourself:
1. Ensure you understand the role
NED roles are about scrutinising, supporting, advising, guiding, challenging. Not doing. Mentoring and providing constructive criticism can be hugely rewarding but doesn’t suit everyone. Boards want to steer clear of that operational NED who can’t let go of their prior hands-on executive approach.
2. What experience have you gained?
Ideally you will have had an executive career where you have been directly responsible for proven impact, results at scale and dealing with demanding issues. It’s a difficult transition to make if you have neither C-level executive experience nor experience presenting to a board. If you don’t have any board experience, get some! Whether on a pro bono basis or as a trustee somewhere, gaining valuable experience will put you in a stronger position when applying to become a NED.
3. Do your values match those of the organisation?
Match your values to those of the organisation and ensure you have the capacity/flexibility to take on a sporadic workload. Also, is your experience a good fit for the scale, complexity and needs of the organisation and the respective committees served by boards?
4. Boards are looking for diversity
This is an increasing factor and we see this in what boards are asking us for and more widely – e.g. McKinsey research on the business case for DEI at the top, or the CBI’s call for the biggest firms to have at least one BAME member on their boards.
There has been huge progress on gender diversity in recent years. In February, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy issued a press release trumpeting a “sea-change in UK boardrooms” due to women making up nearly 40% of FTSE-100 top table roles, up from just 12.5% a decade earlier.
However, in March FT Advisor reported that board gender parity will not happen until 2042. Clearly, there is much more still to do.
5. What expertise do you bring to the table?
Understand your expertise and role in pursuing NED roles. Knowing your strengths and the ability to clearly articulate what skills you bring to the table are vital in avoiding a mismatch. It’s better to demonstrate depth of expertise in a few key areas rather than try to play the ‘generalist’ card and spread yourself too thinly. Always remember that objectivity is called for.
As part of our commitment to this transition, we are holding a series of events in support of developing aspiring NEDs.
For more information, please contact Jes Ladva.