Defining boards to targets? 8 Questions to Ask Yourself

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In my previous article, I wrote about determining which board you could realistically be appointed to. It was an important one because if your aspirations are out of alignment with the realities of your appointment then… well you just won’t get appointed. Worse still, you will hurt your reputation and burn bridges. Like I said, an important article.

It is all well and good to know what sort of organisation is right for you but another thing entirely to be able to name particular organisations that you would both like to be appointed to and are likely to appoint you. I can’t stress this enough. Defining a list of target organisations – by name – is critical. If I worked with a pyramid structure then this would be the base of the pyramid that EVERYTHING else was supported by. 

This article is, I hope, going to take you some way to be able to do this by having you answer 8 questions that will refine your thinking about what is and is not possible. The end result is a refined list of targets that will form the basis of everything you need to do next to get appointed.

Ask yourself these 8 simple questions

1. How much do I need to get paid?

There is nothing wrong with being paid though there are a lot of benefits aligned with unpaid board roles as well. If you do cross off Not for Profit boards because the vast majority don’t remunerate their NEDs. Whilst some might pay if you need to be remunerated then you will find the list of paid NED opportunities in this sector will be quite narrow and highly competitive – making your journey that much more difficult. Moreover, I find that those who do need paid board appointments can get distracted by, or drawn onto, unpaid not for profit boards. In this case, I think it is better to just stop considering them altogether. If, however, gaining a paid appointment is not your primary concern then Not for Profit organisations stay on your list.

2. Who is going to value your skills?

Not every organisation is going to value every skill set at board level. To know who is and who is not going to value your skills you must first know ‘What is your skillset is?’ But also, ‘Why is it valuable at board level?’ Being able to do this is going to shed light on which organisations are going to value what you offer.

You have to look at this from the board’s point of view. Would a small company need an individual with HR expertise – no matter how passionate they are? Probably not, unless they worked in the HR space. Or, will your CIO/IT experience be valuable to a company with little IT infrastructure? Think about who is really going to value your skills.

3. How competitive are you?

Consider how likely your appointment will be in a competitive environment and target roles where your level of experience is going to count most.

Gaining a board appointment is competitive and it is as competitive finding your first appointment as it is finding a subsequent one. Worse news, as your board aspirations increase you will find that competition for those roles becomes increasingly competitive. As an example, I have a client who was just appointed to a major Australian retail board who had 14 separate interviews prior to her appointment! 

With this in mind, you need to consider how much experience, what your skills are, what your value is and how that stacks up against other potential candidates.

4. Where do you live?

Geography still counts. Even in the age of remote board meetings. Boards still, more often than not, take comfort in appointing individuals that are local to them. That means limiting your search initially to the state or region in which you live. 

There will be exceptions to this rule of course – organisations deliberately looking for NEDs in different geographies. 

If you are considering an appointment somewhere geographically not local you need to consider what would you offer above and beyond that of a local candidate? There may be many good reasons and if there are then you need to be able, and prepared, to articulate them – compellingly. Equally, you will also need to be able to convince them that distance won’t be a stumbling block in your effective functioning as a board member.

5. Who will value your connections? 

These 8 questions are designed to help you work out which sort of organisation is most likely to appoint you. This question is particularly important.  What are your connections like individuals, companies, industries and sectors? 

If you really want to define a list of organisations that you should target for a board appointment and that is likely to appoint you do this…

List out in full: the industries you have worked, the companies you have worked for, the sectors you have worked and the companies in that sector that you know of, have worked for and then their competitors along with any client and stakeholders companies they might work with.

Then reverse engineer it – ask the question which those organisations listed will want access to, or value, the connections I have. The answer will be in or very closely related to your list.

6. What are your timings?

How quickly ‘must’ you get your next board appointment? I can gain you a Not for Profit appointment very quickly. But, if you want something more commercial you may have to wait a little longer. So ask yourself how quickly you need a board appointment and if you are willing to hold out for the perfect board role?

7. What are your passions for being on a board?

Remember, Chairs and NEDs are passionate about one of 3 things. 1. What their organisations do (their output) 2. The organisation itself 3. Their contribution to the organisation. You must share this passion too. Otherwise, you will likely be viewed as a risk, able or willing to contribute as much as passionate others will or an unsustainable appointment – risking the reputation of the company or Chair. 

So, what company can you demonstrate that you are passionate about and not just wanting to be a board member of?

What are you passionate about? Personally, professionally and extra-professionally. This counts. Now put names of organisations against these passions. This is a great way to build out your target list.

8. How much preparation are you willing to do to be appointed?

The harder you work the luckier you get. It is kind of true. But hard work alone is not enough. You need to prepare yourself to gain a board appointment. That means getting your documents in order, being clear on your pitch and managing your aspirations. Once you have this done then it is a simple process to follow that will get you appointed. Preparation is key – if you prepare and work smart you will get lucky – over and over again.

Defining a list of target organisations really is the most challenging thing to do but just so valuable. 

So if you are still struggling to define your board aspirations – your targets know you are in good company and persevere. Because, without doing this your journey is bound to be reactive, frustrating and unsuccessful but just coming up with a couple of names of organisations that you can, and want to be, appointed to is a great start. Don’t overthink it. Having a couple of targets in mind means that you can answer the question ‘What sort of board are you looking for?’. Equally, it will provide a solid basis for developing the strategies and tactics required to gain that appointment.

If you need a hand reach out to start a conversation.

About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world

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