Increasingly, we are seeing more professionals make the transition into the highly rewarding (personally and professionally) non-executive work environment. Making the move, however, is not always easy, but with the right approach, effective due diligence and a commitment from the outset it affords those that engage greater control of their longer-term career aspirations.

As we know, the role is to provide a creative contribution to any board on which you serve, giving dispassionate and objective guidance based upon your knowledge, experience and strategic flair. You must be able to challenge and debate in a calm, considered and constructive fashion to keep all parties to account, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the business/organisation and its assets.

There are however several aspects to consider from time commitment, liabilities, new working cultures and practices, through to where to source the opportunities. Below we explore some of the key components you should consider before taking the next step.

What’s in it for me?

The role of a Non-Executive can be beneficial from a financial perspective (although not always from the outset) but more importantly it will enhance your career and help broaden your network. The role affords you the opportunity to operate strategically, often within a more diverse working environment, adding to your knowledge and experience set, which will in turn expand your work/career horizons. Many leaders undertake such work to enable them to step outside of their intellectual comfort zone, challenge themselves in new sectors and learn from new approaches and thinking.

Conversely, many experienced professionals enter a stage of their career and want to give something back through a start-up or growing business, or they are more altruistic in approach and want to support their wider sector or perhaps a region or community that supported their early development.

Can I afford the time?

The answer is that you can always make the time, but the real question, if you are serious about your longer-term career and the diversity of your environment, is can I afford not to? Dependent on your commitments there are opportunities that can fit all needs from as little as a handful of days per year to full time portfolios. Expectation is important from the outset, you may only be committing to 5 or 6 board meetings per year, but the time commitment is always greater than expected. You need to factor in the necessity of getting to understand the business in the early phase of your tenure and your capacity to attend board meetings through to working with smaller embryonic businesses that may need a little more hands-on support. You will have board papers to analyse, offline briefings and additional opportunities to sit on divisional and sub boards. The reality is that whatever the stated commitment at the outset, it is usually 30-50% more than you expected.

How to find the opportunities?

This is the real challenge and something you are going to have to work at. There is much written about this, but it’s often the simple things that work best. Firstly, you need to have the conversations internally as not all organisations understand the benefit of such roles to all parties. You need to have a good idea as to the sectors and type of organisation with which you would want to engage. You need to talk to Non-Executives that you know, whom you have a good working relationship with, to make them aware and ask their advice.

The next stage is to engage with your network, most opportunities will come from there, be it professional advisers (financial, legal, accountants) who you trust, whilst tapping into your wider business network through events, social engagements and industry dinners creating the opportunity to broaden your reach. It is also essential that you build a small network of Search partners who understand this world, who will give you sound advice and who know how to create non-executive opportunities by connecting people.

Networking is relatively straight forward but where most people struggle. It’s something you will need to work at and learn from others but will be your most effective tool. Ultimately, unlocking the opportunities is simply about making your network aware of your ambition as a Non-Executive.

What to look out for?

It’s that adage that you can never do enough due diligence and the same level of focus needs to be invested when considering any non-executive post as you would into your executive career. Firstly, you need to understand what you are taking on in terms of the health of the organisation from a financial, operational and cultural perspective. You need to understand the composition of the board, its strengths and any potential development needs.

Culture is often overlooked and, as boards are increasingly looking for functional skills (in particular finance) rather than sector experience, it is essential to ensure there is a strong values fit as you will not be able to influence accordingly if you get this wrong. Importantly, don’t take a non-executive role for the sake of it (surprisingly people do). You must have a tangible connection, be it the people, the business, the opportunity, it must motivate and inspire you to invest your time and remain committed when the road ahead gets troublesome. It always helps to work with people you like.

What is my personal risk?

The role of a Non-Executive has become increasingly complex over the past few years with the introduction of the Nolan Principals, increased legislation and corporate governance reform, meaning that the role can no longer be seen as a mere extension of the executive career. As already highlighted, look at the scope of the challenges facing the organisation and the skills that sit within the existing team that offset any that you may have. Effective onboarding should be in place, check for D&O insurance, what regulatory compliance challenges that organisation may face and what legal support is available if needed. It will also beneficial to have a good understanding of the UK corporate Governance Code and keep updated on ‘Board Best Practice’.

These are just a few of the considerations that you will need to think about as you embark upon what may well be the most rewarding and enhancing stage of your career. These are hugely rewarding roles that will help you develop new skills, whilst being exposed to more diverse strategic environments, leading to a more fulfilled and often extended career.

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