When the big job offer comes should you say yes?
This article provides some thoughts to consider before accepting your next Board, Senior Executive, or even School Committee role. It is based on a recent discussion I attended, run by the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD). If you haven’t checked out the AICD and you’re a budding director do so here. It follows the extremely popular piece published last month; “Is Mark Creasy on the money? “Too many lawyers & accountants on mining boards…” Read it here. This issue is currently top of my mind. As you may know, at Mining People International (MPi) we recently made the somewhat counter-cyclical move to add further focus to our Executive Search and Consulting business streams:
- Executive Search & Board Consulting
- Board Appointments
- Organisation Design & Position Review
- Talent Mapping & Research
- Remuneration Consulting
I will be writing to our clients in coming weeks but for those wanting to know more now, you can visit the old section of the website and contact us here. This recent professional focus, as well as the AICD session, reminded me how misguided and “starry-eyed” many first-time directors can be and so provided the inspiration for the article. It is NOT an exhaustive research piece but represents my summation of comments made by the AICD panel, questions from the floor, combined with some personal practical observations over years. Lastly, I have added my own “mining industry flavour” as that’s my specialisation. The AICD panel were incredibly honest and so in the spirit of the “Chatham House Rule”, no direct quotes will be made and no names will be used. (Click here to read the Wikipedia definition).
Board Dynamics: Do boards have dynamics? Absolutely they do. All boards are different and all people are different. Keep in mind, if there are three board members, there are a set number of relationships and differences of opinions that exist already. Add just one more board member and the total number of cross relationships and, therefore, differences of opinions jumps by multiples. Add another and you can imagine how the total blows out further and the dynamics can change dramatically. You will, therefore, be most effective when you have a clear understanding of yourself and how you will relate to other personality styles. Invest in some personal profiling if you’ve not done so already. In short know yourself ... Before saying yes to an offer to join:
- Research the Chair
- Research the CEO
- Research the other NEDS
- Understand the pre-existing relationships that exist
- Understand if they are truly ‘independent’ (a term over-used) and if they are also shareholders and to what extent?
- It is a two-way street. Find out why they want you. Ask a direct question.
In summary: If you’re a virgin board member, do not jump at the first thing. Avoid a “starry-eyed” quick acceptance. Keep it top of mind that you have but ONE reputation to give away! Good board member traits: Aside from obvious specific technical skills, certain personal traits are essential.
- Be curious
- Be courageous
- Be an Active Listener – to what IS being said AND what is NOT being said.
Settling into a new board:
- Do everything through the chair
- Be transparent and of high integrity
- Do have catch ups outside the board room but don't cross the boundaries.
After three months if you see a 'motor mouth' and the chair doesn't handle it:
You can either put on a pair of ear muffs and let motor mouth drone on wasting everyone’s time, or you can:
- Approach the chair off to the side
- If that doesn't work next time, you need to have a go yourself at the next meeting - particularly if you see everyone else rolling their eyes and doing nothing
- Ask ‘motor mouth’ to write up a paper and present it at the next board meeting.
Factions and coups:
- Working through these is ok and sometimes even necessary
- This assumes each board member doesn't take a belligerent one-eyed view that there is only a single way forward to the exclusion of all other potential ways forward.
Some questions often asked when the organisation is in crisis: How long does an NED persevere to protect their reputation?
- If the issue is intrinsic you should probably bolt
- If the issue is extrinsic you should consider persisting to solve it
- Under any circumstances, if you get to a point when you have tried your best, no one is listening and you're a lone voice it is time to go
- Never publicly state your reasons for resigning. Sometimes do it but in writing and to the board through the chair and always mark it; "private and confidential".
How to manage personal risk and risk to your personal reputation?
- If you have the skills to help and everyone is aligned then you could consider staying
- If you don't have the skill set and you're alone, then Go Early.
Differences between Not For Profit (NFP) boards and Operational Boards?
- Not as many as people think
- In general terms, NFP’s need just as skilled directors to achieve progress
- NFP’s are though a common starting place for people wishing to build a director career.
Every now and then the AICD run “speed dating for directors” sessions for people wanting to get on NFP boards and those wanting members for NFP boards. So, that’s the summary. I trust it sparks some debate and helps. I’d love to get your feedback and observations to me directly. firstname.lastname@example.org. Before I sign off here, I acknowledge it has been a tough time for many in the world of mining and particular for senior executives. Even in the successful sectors, organisations have been restructured and people have been made redundant. I acknowledge it is often the senior executives who have to deliver these tough messages and as hard as it is for the people getting the message, it is also tough for the messengers. So, I trust you recharged over the holiday period and that 2016 will be an expansionary year for you. I will soon resume reaching out to some of our current and past clients to further talk directly about opportunities to employ and to be employed and to introduce our new Principal tasked with driving the Executive Search and Consulting business. For now, though have a great start to the New Year.Steve Heather Managing Director & Principal Executive Search Mining People International