It’s always difficult to provide a hard and fast answer to this question, as there are many variables at play and everyone’s journey will differ. However, when thinking about a board appointment, it is true to say that ‘the harder you work, the luckier you will get’.
I recognise that this is a fairly glib statement to make and is not always true – there are plenty of examples of people working hard and not getting ‘lucky’. Still, for many people searching for a board appointment, finding time to dedicate to this ‘work’ can present the largest challenge. Furthermore, maintaining this effort and enthusiasm for the journey ahead often becomes unsustainable. As a result, many become easily disgruntled and then return to the status quo of not doing anything – stalling their potential appointment by months or even years!
As such, I actually think ‘how long will it take?’ is the wrong question to ask
The questions you should be asking, are:
- ‘Which organisations are likely to appoint me?’
- ‘Why would they appoint me?’ and
- ‘How much effort am I willing to devote to the exercise?’
- Examples of Success
One of our current members, having worked with me in the Executive Program, was appointed to the board of a commercial transport/infrastructure board that we advertised within just three months of becoming a member. Further, on a personal note, I gained a board appointment within three months of beginning my journey with only minor board experience, few relevant connections and skills that would only suit a small number of organisations.
In both cases, we were crystal clear about three things; the things I describe as the ‘core pillars’ for a board appointment. Having put people on boards for 15 years now and spoken to thousands of successful NED’s, it is these three things that we all have in common and that together make the journey quicker and sustainable.
Whilst not everyone may gain a board appointment within three months, that should be your aspiration. A board appointment within 12 months should be your absolute expectation. Should you not be successful within 12 months, then it is likely that you are doing one of three things wrong; these are the three pillars I referred to earlier.
The Three Pillars
Aspiration: Defining your targets
Defining what sort of organisation you want to be appointed to is absolutely your first step. Whilst this may sound easy, or perhaps obvious, most people when posed the question ‘what board do you want’, are not able to effectively define their aspirations. Alternatively, they provide a generic answer that covers a multitude of different businesses and industries. Either way, they come across as poorly thought through, opportunistic, reputational risk and probably entirely forgettable – certainly unremarkable. None of which you can afford to be!
Articulation: Why you should be appointed
There are a number of reasons you might want to gain a board appointment. Frankly, some of your reasons will support your appointment whilst others will hinder it.
You must be able to articulate your value at board level. You must understand what it is companies want to see in successful candidates and be able to succinctly state these formally, informally and both verbally and on paper. This will, of course, be a very different pitch to the one you give as an executive and may take some getting used to.
To begin with, I recommend writing a NED CV. The process of doing so can often be as useful as the end product, as it will help you think through what value you add at board level. This can then be worked into your vernacular in both formal and informal environments.
Application: How to get appointed
When I talk about Application, I really mean perseverance. At the end of the day it is a pretty simple equation – the harder you work = the luckier you will get. Still, you need to know where to put in the effort; just working hard is often not enough. That means understanding that there are just four ways you will be appointed to a board.
1. Through personal connections;
2. By directly approaching an organisation with an offer to help;
3. Via a Recruiter;
4. Responding to an advertised opportunity.
Each of these routes requires different strategies and tactics. Beyond this, you should know that some appointments will be more desirable than others and as such, some will be difficult to secure.
So how long will it take for you to be appointed?
Well, it depends, doesn’t it? Do you know which sort of organisation you want and can be appointed to? Can you powerfully articulate your board offering? Are you willing to put the time and effort into securing an appointment? If you can answer ‘yes’ to each of these questions, then you should expect an appointment (or more) within 12 months – if not considerably sooner. By keeping this in mind and applying it when you start your journey to a board appointment, you should well be able to dare them not to appoint you.
A word of warning
Defining your target organisations is actually a difficult thing to do. Articulating your value takes time and carving time from your busy personal, professional and extra-professional life can be challenging. For this reason, we have developed a range of offerings that will lead you through these elements – specifically our Board Appointment Training that is included in our Executive Program. Don’t wait for the perfect time to begin your board career – get started today.
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’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.