Why finding and gaining a board appointment needn’t be so difficult (if you do 6 things)

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Many people find the board appointment process overwhelming and quit the search. On the other hand, there are plenty of successful Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) who find the opposite to be true. In fact, they tell me they are overwhelmed with offers to join boards. Why is it that, for some, this is the case? What is it they know that the rest of us don’t? Having worked now with thousands of both aspiring and successful NEDs I think I can shed some light on this topic.

In my last article, I spoke about the softer skills that successful NEDs have in common. Today I want to address some of the practical measures they take that makes them more appointable and more desirable than other candidates.

What does it take to develop a Board Career?

I recently co-hosted a podcast with CPA & respected NED, Janice van Reyk. In it, we discussed “what it takes to develop a board career”. Janice reflected on the advice she provides to individuals wanting their first appointment or to step up their board experience. It started with a question. What organisation do you want to be appointed to the board of? She told me that she was astounded by how many people didn’t know.

Successful NEDs can answer this question specifically. They know the names of organisations that they both want AND can be appointed to.

So there are two points here for you to consider:

1. Know your targets

You must be crystal clear about this. It is fundamentally important that you are because if you are not you will risk your reputation by coming across as opportunistic rather than strategic. Further, if you know your targets you won’t get diverted as easily. Focussed efforts provide you with a greater ROI on your time.

2. Be realistic

You may have grand aspirations but if they are not realistic, you will be wasting your breath. Successful NEDs know their worth. They know what organisation would genuinely appoint them.

3. Unsurprisingly, successful NEDs have a process they follow religiously.

They are focused. They begin with a list of target organisations but they understand that 80% of board appointments occur without recruiters or by responding to adverts. This means that personal connections are key.  Successful NEDs don’t come ready built with a list of these connections. They build them. They do this deliberately and in a focused manner.

In fact, many of these NEDs physically carry around with them a spreadsheet of the people they want to connect with. They build this list based on their targets. They consider who it is they need to know (and be known by) that can help them connect with those boards. They use this document as a reminder to stay focused.

Whether you have a physical list or not you need to know who it is you are trying to connect with and why.

4. Successful NEDs know how & why to connect

It is all well and good to know who to speak with but actually having the courage and means to do this is another matter. Many I coach find this to be the biggest challenge – until I explain how to do it authentically and legitimately. It is never about cold calling – successful NEDs don’t do this and neither should you. Rather, there are a few simple techniques you can implement very quickly to build all the connections you ever need. Ask me how!

Whilst generating these initial connections is a fairly simple process, where it really counts is in the conversation itself. So that means having a really clear and compelling pitch that leaves your new connection in no doubt of not only where you want to be appointed but why you should be appointed to that board. Successful NEDs know their value at board level and focus on that. They spend less time on their own motivation (let’s face it, everyone wants a board role) and more on the five motivators that their target organisations will value.

5. A clear framework makes the Board Appointment process easier and prevents burnout

Gaining a board appointment takes perseverance and smarts. Having clear targets, a refined pitch, being realistic and connecting appropriately makes sense. But, doing this as a one-off exercise rarely works. Successful NEDs are in it for the long haul – they persevere.

We have taken decades of board recruitment experience and countless conversations with thousands of successful and aspiring NEDs and developed a simple and easy to implement process (refer to the model at top of the page) that gets people appointed. I know this because people tell me that it does. 

6. Expect success

Just like Nick (an Executive Member of ours) who emailed me this week after being appointed to his first paid NED role.

Nick NED Success

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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