The number of HR leaders taking on Non-Executive positions has gradually been increasing in recent years and as of today there are in the region of 30 HR Leaders who are NED’s of FTSE 350plc.
With Boards now having responsibility for company culture, and following a revision to the UK Corporate Governance Code in 2018, the spotlight on executive compensation and the move away from shareholder capitalism, it is likely there will be increased demand for HR leaders to serve on boards.
Having spoken to a number of HR leaders who are NED’s, their advice for getting your first role include:
Gain the full support of your CEO or Chairman: a NED role is a commitment and will mean time away from one’s current role to attend meetings. Ensure you have the full support from your own board, as meetings or commitments may conflict with your own business needs.
Use your Chairman and Non-Executives: Their network at this level will be strong and they can help in promoting you to the market. They may also be in a position to recommend you to a search firm if they are contacted about NED roles and can provide a reference for you.
Committees: try to sit on as many committees as possible, such as CSR, Audit and Remuneration. These can help raise your profile with the NED’s. Likewise, if your company is refinancing, involved in M&A, or disposing of assets, see if you can get involved as this will give you exposure to professional advisors. They are often the first to be aware of NED positions coming up and can recommend you to the relevant Chairs.
Do your due diligence: Talk to ex board members as they will offer you their views on the business, the effectiveness of the board and the personalities, irrespective of the reasons why they left.
Ask to see the last board minutes: this should be possible by signing an NDA, and if it isn’t, ask why not? Reviewing these can provide insight into the strategic challenges and issues the business is facing
Understand the business model inside out: central to this is having a critical understanding of how the business makes money (not just at a superficial level) and whether the Executive leadership team truly understand this).
Distinguish between opinion and fact: a NED needs to be able to synthesise information and be comfortable questioning the executives and asking them for the evidence behind their views and opinions.
Use search firms: let them know you are open to NED opportunities and work with them to establish what would be a good first role.
Taking on a NED position carries huge professional and personal benefits and satisfaction, but clearly it is vital to ensure you have the time available to do it justice, and the support of your current board too. Be proactive across your networks and then take the time for a thorough due diligence on any opportunities that become available.