Becoming a non-executive director could turbo drive your career

Becoming a NED could turbo drive your career!

Over the last decade, there has been a growth in ‘portfolio careers’,  multiple simultaneous jobs on a part-time, flexible, basis. Have you heard about becoming a non-executive director?

Those juggling such careers cite the positives that derive from having a variety or a better work-life balance and greater flexibility. What is not often mentioned is the constant strain of keeping all these plates spinning while securing the next piece of work; a magic trick some seem to achieve while others toil.

A useful way to derive a more reliable income stream is by including remunerated non-executive director (NED) positions. Such roles not only benefit them by providing a regular salary but also help develop skills, profile and credibility in other lines of work.

What is a non-executive director?

Non-executive director’s sit on the board of many public, private and not-for-profit organisations, working as a ‘critical friend’ scrutinising the organisation’s performance and offering strategic input and advice to the executive team. How often they meet and what duties they are required to perform varies between organisations.

NEDs can expect at least a monthly commitment to attend meetings (having read the necessary board reports), plus further meetings if appointed to a sub-committee. They may be required to be present at public events, such as an opening of a new building, and some boards also provide training and team development away-days that need a time commitment (sometimes overnight).

Breaking through into the non-executive world and achieving the first post can be tricky. Often people wanting to be NEDs face the experience/opportunity catch-22 that many first-time job seekers and graduates encounter – can’t get a job because without the knowledge but can’t get the experience without the job. Boards appointing new NEDs are often looking to find people that already have experience of how a board operates and know how a right NED can make a difference.

How do you get started as a NED?

An excellent way to start is to seek out quasi-board positions, such as sitting on strategic partnership teams above projects being delivered by organisations in joint-venture partnerships. Doing this will give you the experience of what it’s like to offer significant input and vision while not having direct executive responsibility for the project.

You could also secure a non-remunerated NED role. These posts are usually found in public, not-for-profit or third sector organisations such social landlords, charities and community groups. Many NEDs find that once they have that first board-level role under their belt, they can access further non-executive opportunities more efficiently.

Andy Brown, a former executive of The Burton Group, Boots, Sky TV and ASDA now acts as a business consultant while being a NED for various companies and a member Yorkshire Cancer Research’s board. “There’s no question that acting as a NED gives you extra credibility”, he said, and although, “it seems to be quite tricky to get into the NED game in the first place, working at board level on strategy and other sensitive issues show you are useful have around”.

Taking on a NED role while maintaining a portfolio career can be a tricky balancing act. Boards will have established and non-negotiable meeting dates, which you’ll be expected to attend, and this can create tension when clients introduce new or extra work. Many NEDs talks about the need to find a ‘balance of commitment’. They are regularly tested by the dilemma of accepting another NED position that can provide a steady income, intellectual interest and a bit of kudos while holding out for that next big chunk of interim or project work. But if that balance can be achieved the benefits to a career NED can be very rewarding.