People have asked me over many years how do I get a foot in the door to become a Board Director? What is the right way to get experience? For many years the answer would have been, look at a Not for Profit (NFP), which was a good place to gain experience. However, things have changed dramatically over the past decade whereby the not for profit sector has become much more complex and challenging.

The increase in licencing conditions for the Aged Care sector, the introduction of the NDIS to the disability sector, coupled with a number of extensive Royal Commissions have all meant that the good old NFP organisations are now in need of qualified and experienced Directors to assist them in succeeding in what is now an uncertain and competitive environment. NFPs often have a clarity of purpose and giving back to the community which is irresistible to potential Board members.

So, how do you choose an appropriate Board to join? In the NFP sector, predominately the disability sector, there has been a general dip in financial performance, resulting from the new regulatory framework of NDIS and the continual changing of the goal posts. You need to look at the longer-term financial performance of any potential organisation and see if the current directors (and management) have the right strategy and cash to turn things around.

Understanding the strategy and vision are also important to feeling comfortable about a Director’s role, however I believe there is one key element about a Board which trumps all others, that is culture.
I had the privilege to recently interview an exceptional Director to join a board that I am currently on. This Director has a CV which dwarfs most of the Board members I have worked with, worked for or reviewed in the past. We had a healthy discussion about the performance of the company in question and then a most fruitful conversation about what makes a good Board Director and what makes a good Board.

Their insight, which I also happen to agree with, is that the culture of the Board is the key to being a high performing Board. It is not necessarily about the number of degrees sitting around the table nor the cumulative number of other Boards represented. It is how the Board behaves as a group, how the Board manages conflict, adapts to change and how the Board continues to refresh itself to ensure their relevance and value to the organisation they are directing.

Access to cultural information isn’t normally available in the advertisement or position description or part of a Board induction pack. Gaining insight to the Board’s dynamics, behaviours and culture is found by having a 1:1 chat with existing Board members, connecting with them, asking questions and understanding their motivation for serving on the Board.

The VUCA world is the new norm, boards operate in an environment described as, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. High performing Boards undertake regular reviews of themselves as a whole and of themselves as individuals to ensure they are adding value to the Board and demonstrating the organisation’s values and culture.

In seeking a Board role, you should consider the following:

  • What is your passion and motivation?
  • Are you interested in a specific sector?
  • Do your values align with the organisation?
  • Do you know any of the Directors?
  • Do you know someone who knows any of the Directors?
  • How can you add value to the Board?
  • When was the Board’s last performance review?
  • Look at the financials and strategic plan.
  • What does the constitution say?

At the heart of an organisation’s success is culture. Good luck in your next board adventure.
For more information please contact Greg Connor on 0412 818 247 or greg.connor@vuca.com.au

Greg Connor FAICD
Director