So you want to join a board?

Written by
Bonnie Gwin
Heidrick & Struggles

04 Dec 2017

04 Dec 2017 • by Bonnie Gwin

CHROs are increasingly being looked at as potential corporate directors. But how do you get there?
This article is provided to Changeboard by our Future Talent 2018 partners, Heidrick & Struggles. You can see Heidricks' Managing Partner Colin Price in conversation with Aviva's CEO, Mark Wilson, at Changeboard's Future Talent Conference 2018.
Given the increased visibility and influence of the role, CHROs are increasingly being looked at as potential corporate directors.
However, it’s still an incredibly competitive venture, and many thousands of outstanding executives are aspiring to a sharply limited number of opportunities. (For context, consider that Fortune 500 companies collectively added only 421 board seats in 2016.)
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to ensure you are considered for the right boards and that you remain visible to the people who make those decisions.
1. Assess your readiness

What experiences and roles have you had that would enable you to make a substantive contribution to a board? Seek out peers who are already on boards and discuss your CV, career, and strengths with them.

Ask for advice about how you might fit on a board and seek a frank assessment of your readiness. With the permission of your CEO, talk to a director on your company’s board for additional coaching. If you identify personal deficits, develop a game plan to address them.
2. Approach your board search as you would a job search

Ask yourself what industry sector best suits your talents and interests. Consider also what type of company appeals to you: public, private equity–backed, venture-backed? These boards’ cultures, dynamics, and approaches to governance can differ greatly.

Then use your network to research companies that fit the bill. Customise the case for your readiness in various instances and develop a list of people you know who have connections to the sector or to companies that intrigue you. 

3. Develop your 'elevator pitch'
Compose a statement that succinctly touches on your interest in board service and the unique contributions you bring. Test your story with a board member you know well, fine-tune it accordingly, and be prepared to adapt it to the occasions where you will use it.

Remember, your intent isn’t to buttonhole people as an aggressive salesperson would; the people you’ll be speaking with are themselves highly accomplished and likely averse to unvarnished self-promotion.

4. Network
According to a survey by the National Association of Corporate Directors, nearly 70% of directors said their board had used personal networking or word of mouth to identify the pool of candidates from which their most recently nominated director was chosen.
Network with board members but also with others who have relationships with boards: auditors, lawyers, and leadership or search consultants. Your professional associations will also likely include some members who serve on boards, so find out who they are and network with them at meetings and conferences.
For more on the ins and outs of networking, see “Are you making the most of your network?” 

5. Seek experience on a charity board

Most large charities and nonprofit organisations offer opportunities for board service and exercise the same rigorous governance as major public companies.

Service on these boards can introduce you to governance practices, boardroom dynamics, and the differences between managing an organisation and overseeing it. But make sure the experience will be demonstrably relevant to a public company board.
If all goes well, you may eventually be approached about your interest in joining the board of a particular company. And if that day comes, you will be ready to take your seat and make a difference.
A version of this article was originally published in the Heidrick & Struggles Knowledge Center.

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About the author 


Bonnie W. Gwin is vice chairman and co-managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ CEO & Board Practice. She is based in New York.


Heidrick & Struggles