What are your career intentions this year? One of mine is to dip into some different networking groups here in north west England. It’s as a result of attending a Women On Boards event that this article has come about. If you are interested in joining the Manchester branch then do connect with chairperson Sarah Perris, of Perris-Myatt. They deliver lots of events across the UK and via webinar, specifically to support women (and men if you’re bold!) with securing Non-Executive Director and Board positions.
One of your career intentions this year might be to secure a Non-Executive Director (or NED for short) or Trustee role. This might be part of your career strategy to enlarge your network, contribute to a worthwhile cause, share and deepen your skills or transition into a new sector. Many of you reading this might have thought of the idea but dismissed it because you feel too junior still. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a director currently to be a NED or trustee! Many organisations value new perspectives. This might be absolutely the right time to put intentions into action and here are five top tips for doing so.
1. Do your career stock-taking
Identify which skills you want to deepen in future. Non-Execs and Trustees are required to provide strategic input to an organisation, often to share operational or functional skills and knowledge in areas such as HR, Law, Marketing or Finance. The Board might look to these individuals for creative problem-solving skills as well. You’ll need relationship building skills to cooperate with the various stake-holders on the Board. Some of my career coaching candidates are exploring director qualifications such as the one offered by the Institute of Directors
Consider too your career direction. Where do you want to offer your skills? Are you passionate about a cause or charity, public sector organisation, professional membership body or private sector company? Bear in mind that many non-exec and trustee roles are unpaid and may require regular monthly and/or quarterly Board meeting attendance. You may also be a part of additional sub-committees. Often there will be a few (at least) hours of preparation before each meeting.
2. Do your research
Read about the role of Non-Execs and Trustees. Here’s a useful article from the professional body for NEDs about the differences between non-executives and trustees:
On the same website you can also download a free 25-page guide entitled “What to expect of the NED role”.
Here’s a link to a 40-page guide from the Charity Commission about the role of a Trustee:
3. Ask others about their NED and Trustee experience
Talk to people you know who are Non-Execs and Trustees for their advice and information. I reached out to Neal Chamberlain who is Lead Learning and Development Partner at Manchester University and Non-Executive Director for a Chamber Orchestra, Manchester Camerata as well as an NHS Trust. He suggests as a starting point, “Sometimes it might be about taking a smaller NED role than that for which you are aiming, as that at least will get some NED experience on your CV.” It can be easier sometimes to get a NED or Trustee role whilst you’re still working, many organisations value highly your operational, hands on experience.
4. Be aware of your legal responsibilities
Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you are a NED or Trustee. Follow your instincts if you are concerned about something as there are legal requirements of these roles which you must be aware of. Here’s an article highlighting these issues:
5. Thoroughly familiarise yourself with the organisation and build relationships
Once you have secured a NED or Trustee role take time to learn more about the organisation by visiting premises, attending events and reading their website and those of competitors. Ask if you don’t understand their jargon. Get to know people from the organisation whilst being mindful not to compromise your role as an objective sounding board. Build relationships with other Board members in out of meeting catch ups. This will ensure you feel confident in Board meetings to ask consulting style open questions to challenge and clarify your understanding. Neal Chamberlain highlights the need to use both the “support and challenge” sides of your style to operate effectively in these roles. He recommends looking out for “patterns in discussions” as well as evidence of “group think”. Be prepared to make alternative suggestions.