How Much Do ‘Old School Networks’ Count?

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The importance of our networks can never be underestimated when it comes to the board appointment process. So when asked how much old school networks count in a board appointment, the simple answer to this question is: ‘It depends on whether a board considers itself a rockpool or a Northern Quoll.’

Rockpool vs Northern Quoll

Many believe boards are like rockpools. A rockpool – like one you might find on a headland or a beach – is a robust ecosystem thriving on the tide coming in and out twice a day delivering any number of new entities into its presence. A board, many think, operate the same way – as a new member joins it (the board) adapts accordingly and becomes stronger for it.

However, the reality is often very different. In my experience boards are very wary of any kind of change and are more akin to a Northern Quoll. Consider the introduction of the Cane Toad to Australia in 1935 in an attempt to control the native grey-backed cane beetle. Despite the best intentions the introduction of this single entity is having a devastating effect on our native ecosystem and the Northern Quoll (they eat cane toads and die as a result) in particular. Like the Northern Quoll, I think most boards/Chairs, whilst capable, are fearful of the introduction of a foreign element because they might also devastate their fragile ecosystem.

So what does it matter if a board considers itself a rockpool or a Northern Quoll? It matters, because it affects the approach Chairs take to the appointment process. More importantly still, it should affect the way you apply, or position yourself, for a board position.

A board often considers itself as having a delicate ecosystem and individual members are keenly aware of this. They are, therefore, in the best position to know what kind of candidate would be suited to the board so as not to disrupt this ecosystem. For this reason most Chairs, when faced with a vacancy, first ask board members if they know of any suitable candidates. Many take this approach because by doing so they are assured of a ‘known quantity’ applying which provides some level of comfort that the eventual appointee will be culturally appropriate.

Of course, if no suitable candidates are known by board members then often a third party or advertisement will be used. In this case it is important for you to consider how your application might be viewed by the board and the cultural impacts of joining it.

In either case when applying, you need to consider how to allay any fears the Chair might have of introducing you into their fragile ecosystem.

A good way to do this is to get to know external and internal stakeholders and reference these in your application. This may not place you in the ‘club’ but it should at least provide the decision makers reviewing your application a level of comfort.

So, do old school networks count? Yes, absolutely. Being part of the ‘club’ provides a tangible level of comfort to the board and chairman that you will not upset the balance of the ecosystem – something that together they have worked long and hard to develop. However, if you are not part of the club already do consider how to provide the same level of comfort to the board you are applying for.

What to do if you don’t have Old School Networks

Have a look at our article about updating your network. You should find some valuable people from within your current network whom you may not have thought of before, who may be able to help you get further with your board search.

If you really don’t have an Old School Network you can rely on, then becoming part of Board Direction’s network can help you build the right relationships and give your network the edge it needs. We offer various ways for you to do this.

  1. Board Search Breakfasts: We have monthly breakfast presentations where you will not only learn how to dare them not to appoint you but you will also have the opportunity to rub shoulders with other NED’s, thus building a network you can rely on in future.
  2. Board Appointments Master Class: These master classes are presented in main centra across the country twice a year. It affords you the opportunity to learn more about what recruiters know about the board appointment process and also gives you an excellent networking opportunity with some of the top NED’s in Australia.

This should give you a great advantage when it comes to the appointment process for your next board role, enabling you to dare them not to appoint you.

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. He has been described as Australia’s leading board recruitment expert, is a published author, a regular speaker on the board appointment process and runs Board Search Masterclasses across Australia. He is one of Australia’s Top 10 LinkedIn users with over 20,000 connections. Email: ua.mo1713459079c.noi1713459079tceri1713459079ddrao1713459079b@tca1713459079tnoC1713459079