The hard and soft skills of successful non-executive directors
When applying for board positions, non-executive directors are expected to bring strategic and leadership skills to the table. In today’s challenging business climate, soft skills are also in high demand.
Having a wealth of experience to bring to a non-executive board position is a clear advantage. Application processes for board roles are competitive, and the time to put your case forward is limited.
So, how do you prepare yourself when applying for non-executive directorships?
Juliet Taylor, CEO of board recruiters Starfish Search, says, “Understand what the gap is that the organisation is trying to fill and make sure you are clear and confident about what you can offer.”
What is your signature skill?
Across the globe, companies are experiencing extensive regulatory, technological and financial challenges. Managing business through these challenges requires highly-skilled and experienced board directors.
“Most boards look for: knowledge, governance expertise, networks, and connection with audiences,” says Taylor.
“You don’t have to bring all four things, though, so [ask yourself] what’s your signature contribution?”
You can make a difference.
Highly valued non-executive directors are well-versed in emotional intelligence – they can quickly grasp other people’s characteristics and agendas.
“Understanding the nuance of board roles is also important,” says Taylor. “Consider where the organisation is trying to get to and what you can bring to the party.
“We are seeing more and more people from all sectors looking for more purposeful ways of using their skills and who want to make a positive contribution to society.
“Always remember: this is your time, so don’t forget to tell the organisation what the role would give you in return.”
What professional disciplines, or hard skills, are currently in demand on UK boards?
“The pandemic recovery period means that effective non-executive leaders are in demand more than ever before,” says Taylor.
“We are seeing increasing numbers of non-executive board members being sought for organisations who need to rebuild or refocus their strategy.
“We have seen a strong trend in boards looking for people with digital expertise and backgrounds in customer service and organisational or cultural change.
Those with financial skills and profit-making skills are now high in demand.
“People who can help increase income or support financial management are also towards the top of the list, as are people who can bring insight into, and connection with, customers and audiences.
However, it isn’t all about increasing the bottom line and opening the right doors.
“One of the shifts we are seeing is a marked move away from focusing too much on professional disciplines. Organisations in all sectors are much more aware of their diversity now than they were before 2020. Creating strong, versatile and authentically diverse teams is now a consistent theme.”
What soft skills are in demand?
An effective board member is hard to define, mainly due to their soft skills, such as the ability to listen and knowing when to speak.
“It’s hard to tell a great non-executive on paper because so much of the role is about how people operate and not what they have done,” says Taylor.
“Great board members are people who understand how to deploy their expertise in a way that has an impact in a non-executive board setting.”
Self-awareness is a powerful skill
“The skills that make the difference are the capacity for self-reflection, so people with insight and self-awareness, also diplomacy and listening skills,” says Taylor.
“Increasingly, people are being expected to bring all their experiences into the board room, not just their professional accomplishments. Sound judgement is key to doing this well and to understand how you can add value.”
When it comes to the interview
This is your time to reflect and prepare. The role you are applying for needs to be fulfilling and worthwhile for you as well.
Be clear. Tell the organisation what you can bring to the table to help it reach its goals and why it matters to you.
Leadership journeys, expertly navigated
Webinar – Create an effective supporting statement
Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM BST
City CV, the international award-winning career consultancy, has partnered with Starfish Search to present a one-hour online live training session to help you progress your career in the Not for Profit field. You know what you want to do, you have your dream role in mind. But what next? In this one-hour session, you will learn how to create a winning personal statement to support your CV, including:
- Our top tips
- The ideal structure
- How to show your value
- Three specific ways to express your motivation and passion
- How to implicitly sell yourself every step of the way
- Prove it: tick off each role requirement with our clear and simple methodology
Live Q&A – have all your questions regarding the current NFP market answered by Juliet Brown, Partner, Starfish Search and any questions around CVs, LinkedIn and personal statements by Victoria McLean, CEO, City CV.
Starfish Search. Leadership journeys, expertly navigated.
Spotlight on: Tom Lewis Reynier
I’m the Director of Strategic Engagement at WRAP – a leading circular economy and sustainability charity operating through the UK and with global programmes. I’ve worked in the private sector, with local and national governments and in all corners of the social sector as well – so you could say my career has been a bit ‘squiggly’ to coin a phrase. That’s the way I’ve liked it though – because although it hasn’t always been planned, I’ve always been drawn to change, to challenge, and to opportunity. There’s been plenty of it in the past decade or two as we go through technological, social and climate change – and I’ve relished the chance to help organisations reconfigure themselves to address the roles they can play and the impact they can have in this picture.
WRAP has an established history, but is a ‘new’ charity – and so I’m here to help it build its profile, and diversify its income, and base of partnerships. The space of sustainability and climate change is right at the cutting edge of global interest and change right now and so the chance I have to learn about the issues, and bring what impact I can to it is a real privilege. Roles like this do not come around very often and so when I got the call from Starfish to look at it I jumped at the chance – and realised it would need a real blend of experiences and backgrounds to fill it well – and so was delighted to be appointed.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? Obviously working in climate change I have a really global focus. One place that is really seen at the moment is in the space of responsible investing (ESG). I’ve always been fascinated with the transformational impact that different uses of capital can have, and have long been involved in social investment projects. It’s amazing to see the traction and scale that asset managers are picking up in how they use their influence to affect business decisions relating to carbon emissions, land use and poverty alleviation. It would be great to think that we in the social sector can continue to build on that and work very much hand in hand with the financial sector to get to this brighter, cleaner and more sustainable future. They are joining the space that we as charities have long been creating and so we need to harness their resources to make sure that it delivers the right sort of impact.
What personal philosophy do you aspire to live by? I guess I live by the philosophy that there is room for a broad range of views, opinions and approaches. And we should leave space for that. Of course we need to choose action and be decisive but I find the most impactful, creative and energetic organisations across sectors are those that allow people to express themselves. I find too often in life, in business and especially in the charity sector we’re too quick to cut each other off and we lose sight of what is going on around us. The strongest organisations are those that bring together the most diverse sources of people and experience, work hard to foster that and really work hard at it.
Who has inspired you the most on your own career journey? My first job out of university was in printing – screen printing, and specifically t-shirts and clothing . I worked with a growing business for 10 years and was really influenced by the entrepreneur who had set this up. My whole approach to opportunity, business development, innovation and my attitude to just getting on with what needs to be done came from that. It’s really been a strong driver for the work I’ve done through all the roles I’ve had in the charity sector. Too often we come up with reasons why we shouldn’t do something, or why we can’t and I’ve always tried to shift that mindset. That was borne of my time building a small, innovative and creative business and I guess it’s with me for good now!
What advice would you give to others who are following a similar path? I guess I’d encourage people to be bold, go for it – and to not doubt. If you really believe something is a good idea, is the right thing to do or will work – then don’t be discouraged or dissuaded by your fears that you, or it won’t fit in. Group think and going with the flow can be such a strong force of extinguishing your enthusiasm and energy and it’s really important to keep things in perspective and stick with your convictions. In addition – if you are working in any change role then never forget that this is what they have brought you in for!
Leadership journeys, expertly navigated
It’s time for revival not simply survival
Like many industries, the charity sector is having a tough time; it is not exempt from making redundancies.
Dramatic loss of funding coupled with ongoing restrictions on the workforce means that organisations are having to deliver significant change internally and at pace.
Change has, in fact, become part of everyone’s life: many have had to embrace the reality of remote working since March and this or a hybrid office-and-home model looms in the future. While some have adjusted, others endured isolation and missed the social interactions with colleagues.
Without the clear-cut change of location and defined office hours, many find it harder to divide their personal and professional time.
And Covid-19 is not just a six-month blip, that much is clear. Organisations need to be agile when the normal rules do not apply. Many charities are under huge financial pressures and are tweaking their internal models to pool resources in the right areas.
Keeping on top of change
Organisations need more responsive structures to get through these times as traditional operating models are changing forever. Chief executives must embrace this change; they need to tilt the axis of the organisation so that innovation and fresh thinking thrive at every level. They will have to take risks and do things differently.
Janina Vallance is an experienced Change Manager who has worked at board level for over 10 years delivering strategic change and transformation programmes across Retail, Consumer, Finance and most recently the Charity Sector. We discussed her experiences of delivering change across multiple industries and what charities can do to continue their change journeys. It is time to ‘Revive not Survive’.
“There is no point doing more of the same, hoping the world returns to normal at some point. Your people, culture and processes have adapted and modified during lockdown; continue with the momentUill to embrace the many opportunities”
We discussed areas where investment in change and transformation can not only revive, but can also establish a firm foundation for growth, when services may be more in demand. Here’s Vallance’s key piece of advice:
Further investment in digital transformation. Having one strategic digital lead can make a significant difference to your organisation – digital is changing so quickly and you need one person who tunes into this and takes advantage of new technologies, leap frogging expensive, complex and outdated solutions.
This helps access new communities to expand reach, fuelling your profile, brand engagement and fundraising. With the use of AI and chatbots on the rise, many charities have moved to delivering help and support services online, especially during lockdown.
Face to face and events fundraising is on pause and many have turned to digital events for income – there has been huge amounts of innovation around engagement with existing supporters. What is more challenging is increasing income from new supporter audiences digitally.
The National Theatre’s online programme of events is a fantastic example of pushing activity online. They streamed 16 of their shows for free over four months. Nine million households tuned in across 173 countries – this was globally supported, and theatre became accessible to a diverse and wider audience.
Now not everyone can stream their shows, but what inspiration can you take from other markets? A fantastic collaboration for fundraising that has just taken place is the ‘Massive Get Together’ – an evening of live music and comedy where funds raised split between 10 charities. The pandemic has produced unique collaborations as people and organisations do things differently.
Internal innovation encourages cultural change and helps create new ideas, improvements and solutions. Are you encouraging diversity of thought by engaging with your wider workforce? Are you asking your organisation what changes needed to happen? Does your culture support inclusion, challenge and feedback so that you can build on that left field opinion? Change must come from within but can lack ownership. Consider hiring an interim manager as an expert to support organisational change.
The call to action for volunteers during the height of the pandemic was phenomenal and in the early days, British Red Cross and NHS were overwhelmed with support. We need to develop this community spirit further so we harness the power of our communities for social change.
If you get this right, you will bring in new supporters, who give their time and financial support. There is a vast talent pool of individuals who are job-hunting and want to stay active while they look for their next role; people may have more time to volunteer but these must be accessible and flexible opportunities.
How are you funded? Can you diversify this and develop commercial opportunities? Can you provide more services to a broader range of beneficiaries? Can you provide training? Can you collaborate and build partnerships with others?
Many organisations have operated with leaner structures for the past six months and plan to change old structures. We are likely to see an increase in mergers and consolidation in many sectors, including charities.
Consider using external support to shape this thinking, interim transformation/change managers will help you secure new opportunities and uncover solutions.
Strategic intervention can add significant value. You may not have the expertise internally, so providing the organisation with support and acting quickly will pay dividends.
Interim managers are uniquely equipped to join senior teams at short notice and provide essential support with their trademark resilience. As we move deeper into the next phase of Covid-19 and with the furlough scheme being extended, we would encourage organisations to think laterally about the solutions they need, and to consider the benefits that this Interim Management community offers.
Survival is a valid goal, revival an even better one. Achieve more from your change.
Leadership journeys, expertly navigated
To discuss this article or Interim Talent more generally, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Changing role of the CFO through COVID-19 and beyond
Saras Seth, a career interim of several years, joined Prince’s Trust as Interim Chief Finance Officer earlier this year and has since joined permanently. I recently caught up with him to discuss his experiences of leading as a CFO through lockdown and how the priorities within his role changed during this time.
How did you feel about going into lockdown not long into your new role?
It was as a challenge; I was a new member of the team but as the CFO I was central to most of the decisions being made within the organisation at this time. I had to learn how the organisation worked very quickly. As an experienced interim, I quickly assimilated what needed to be done. I had a similar experience four years ago whilst I was at the BBC. At the time, we had no offices for three-four months, and I had to manage the whole team remotely. Being an interim did not affect how I behaved, you look at what needs to be achieved and endeavour to get it done, no matter what.
How has your role at Prince’s Trust been able to respond to the pandemic and beyond?
Currently the main objective for any CFO is to preserve cash. In the current climate the finance professionals have become the most important cog in the wheel, and they drive the organisation forward whilst also adopting a defensive/ survival mode. Most CFOs will have this skillset and you find yourself almost taking control of the ship, providing guidance inside and outside of the organisation. You find yourself running lots of scenarios and numbers and what the hypothesis are, updating the board and the team constantly. The role becomes critical as it is the only one that can present what might happen in the future.
We discussed the CFO role being the driver for change within organisations. How would you describe your leadership style and how have you motivated your teams during this change journey?
Interestingly, during the pandemic there have been far fewer staff for the business to manage due to furlough. All organisations have their own DNA, processes, and momentum but with fewer people you find yourself trying to navigate a business which is becoming leaner. You make structural changes within the organisation and learn how to operate with less staff. Staying positive is important and to succeed over this period, you must simplify things. At the Trust we looked at what adds value and focused on that. Being clear with the team on what you expect to be achieved and give realistic timelines. It feels more prescriptive (due to remote working) and there is more clarity and centralisation. To keep the organisation engaged, you must know what you need to stop or continue doing to keep the business on track.
How do you think your role might be changing as we emerge from the pandemic?
The role of a CFO will be challenging for the next three to five years. The challenges that will be in place for this role will be one of constant evolution. Mapping forward as far as possible but not committing too far forward in a hard sense. There will be more scrutiny and focus on the delivery of our services and to navigate the future you will need to be as agile and as nimble as possible. Organisations will start to centralise a lot of their processes and then outsource to reduce committed costs.
What changes do you see for finance more generally as we look to the future?
There will be a bigger focus on governance and oversight by the Trustees. It will cover GDPR, risk, forecasting and safeguarding. There will be an increase in scrutiny from the board and specifically the Treasurer in this current environment. My current challenge right now is governance, forecasting, asset management and commerciality.
Give us your insight into what positive changes have occurred due to COVID?
We have found ways of stopping doing things which were not adding value and have focused on the tasks that pay dividends. One of the insights we have had at the Trust is that remaining teams have become focussed more on core processes and Charities will have to find a balance between the value add they require and the amount of resources they want to commit to things ; we may find that many Charities are over-resourced as delivery models change.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Trying to improve processes and quality of insight whilst working remotely. It has been challenging trying to relay information virtually through technology. Working on projects remotely without excellent collaborative digital tools has been difficult.
What have you learned about yourself in lockdown?
I have found out I am not a big fan of working from home and I have learned that the work/life balance line has become exceedingly blurred!
What will be your next priorities at the Trust?
My next focus will be on the improving the quality of information.
If you would like to discuss this is more detail please contact email@example.com
Leadership journeys, expertly navigated
Penny Ransley joins Starfish Search as Director, Local Government.
Penny will lead the firm’s latest specialist executive search practice. Penny has worked closely with local government members and chief officers to recruit to their leadership teams for 15 years. Her genuine interest and desire to understand local authorities and the communities they serve has secured her reputation as a trusted partner across the sector.
Yomi Johnston and Catherine Kift will work alongside Penny supporting the Local Government practice offering Interim Talent solutions.
Leadership journeys, expertly navigated.
Positive Action Vs Positive Discrimination
One of the first questions I am asked when discussing a recruitment campaign is ‘can you guarantee a diverse shortlist?’ To answer anything other than ‘we will do everything we can but there are no guarantees’ might be disingenuous; nevertheless, it’s hugely frustrating for councils to hear.
It is inevitable that selection panels will be disappointed with homogeneous shortlists. Countless studies have for years confirmed that genuinely diverse workforces are more creative, innovative, and produce better decisions. They also have a deeper understanding of their customers and audiences. We know that councils are persistently under the spotlight as organisations who should be getting this right.
The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a brighter light on social inequality and diversity and will be a powerful catalyst for change. For now, however, we can achieve progress together through the choices we make locally. Doing this properly means gaining clarity on some basic principles.
First, what is positive discrimination? An employer falls foul if they appoint or seek to appoint an individual based purely on a protected characteristic rather than experience or qualifications. Protected characteristics include race, gender, age, disability, religion, and sexual orientation.
It is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 to set quotas to recruit or promote a specific number of people with a protected characteristic. There are of course some occupational exceptions e.g. a women’s refuge can apply a requirement for its staff to be women.
Second, what is positive action? Positive action became legal in 2011 and comes into play when an organisation is deciding between candidates who are equally qualified. In this situation, an employer can choose to appoint an individual from an underrepresented group if they are as qualified and fit for the role as the other candidates.
Positive action can also include employers taking measures to address issues within their organisations to support employees with a protected characteristic to overcome disadvantage and discrimination.
In an effort to leave unsuccessful diversity recruitment strategies behind, many organisations are now implementing targeted development programmes for existing staff. These can be very effective in progressing fourth and fifth tier managers whilst enhancing the reputation of your organisation. Councils need not work in isolation; you could partner and work within regional clusters to develop talent and OD programmes that extend opportunity and choice for our future leaders.
As experienced recruiters we are already playing a valuable role in enhancing diversity in different sectors. Coaching and guidance on navigating unfamiliar recruitment processes is a small part of the puzzle but has enormous impact in helping to fulfil potential.
To find out more contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Leadership journeys, expertly navigated
Spotlight on: Martin Allen Morales
I’m the co-founder of a new organisation which aims to bring funding, skills, expertise, community and network to sustainability start-ups, impact investors and purpose-led professionals.
I’ve had a fun career so far having worked for the last 20 years in both private and non-profit sectors at an operational and leadership level. I’ve launched and run businesses for Apple, Disney and EMI and ran my own sustainability focused food business called Ceviche which introduced Britain to Peruvian food for the first time. I’ve won GQ’s Innovator of the Year Award, the UK Chamber of Commerce’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Best New Sustainable Restaurant Of The Year Award and recently became a bestselling author. I still can’t believe the latter btw. I hold Board roles at Recovery Focus, Big Issue Invest and Future Fit Foundation and I once managed The Muppets. Long story.
Juliet Taylor and her team at Starfish Search approached me for the NED role at Recovery Focus (aka Richmond Fellowship) as they were keen to find someone with a blended commercial, charity and social enterprise background and who had been successful in tech, entrepreneurship, team and brand building. I was drawn to Recovery Focus’ 60 year heritage and their national scope of truly life transforming mental health, domestic violence, substance and gambling abuse services. Juliet guided the selection with precision, transparency and gave me full confidence and trust in the process throughout. I was lucky to get the role and feel privileged to serve Derek Caren and Helen Edwards, CEO and Chair respectively. Making people happy, particularly vulnerable people, is my life mission so RF aligns perfectly with that.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? I would build a tax system that rewarded business leaders who channel some of their companies’ profits and personal financial rewards towards eradicating childhood poverty, climate change, environmental damage and unjust working conditions. This tax system would give them the opportunity to receive high praise and feel great pride in their selfless, collaborative, transparent and empathic approach towards the way they run their lives and their companies.
What is the question people ask you most often? How come you’ve achieved so much in such a short space of time? Answer: I work fast, with my heart full of joy, my mind full of wisdom, my team full of passion, and I make some mistakes along the way. I learn to be better from these, refine my work, develop and share the learnings.
Who has inspired you the most on your own career journey? There is no such thing as a career; there is just a life journey where we have balance or not, work or not, passion or not, purpose or not. My life companion is my amazing wife Lucy who inspires me every day and I’ve also had the good fortune of working with Steve Jobs whilst at Apple and Bob Iger whilst at Disney. Steve taught me how to truly understand the customer journey by crafting it meticulously with no switch offs. Bob taught me how to create a brand and maximise its potential through a broad variety of avenues, revenues, businesses and experiences. But on this journey at the moment those who live and inspire me are Dame Ellen MacArthur and her Foundation, Tom Szaky at TerraCycle, The Drake-Knight Brothers at TeeMill, Thick Nhat Hahn and Greta Thunberg.
And every few days I also remember the many others who have inspired me such as Maya Angelou, Miriam Makeba, Ruth Buendia, Fela Kuti, Nicomedes Santa Cruz, Muhammad Ali, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Neruda, Julia Butterfly Hill, St Francis Of Asisi, Peter Tatchell, Martin Luther King, Manu Chao, Pele and Eckhart Tolle among others.
What words of wisdom have resonated with you that you now find yourself passing on to others? “One should never be nervous about being asked to tackle anything. One has all the power necessary to achieve everything within oneself. It is only necessary to remember the power. If people are nervous it is because they forget their potentialities and remember only their limitations.” HH Shantanand Saraswati
Starfish Search. Leadership journeys, expertly navigated.
Webinar – Practical tips on CV presentation and content
Starfish Search is working in partnership with City CV, an international career consultancy providing CV support and interview coaching to thousands of people every year. We are co-producing a series of webinars aimed at supporting both established and aspiring leaders. The sessions are carefully tailored for senior executives seeking their next move, and first-time non-executives looking for opportunities in the Social Sector. The sessions are free to join and the first webinar of the series, focused on strengthening CVs for impact in an increasingly competitive market, will be led by Victoria McLean, City CV’s founder and CEO.
The first webinar will be held on Thursday 24th September 12.30-1.30pm. For more details and to register please visit https://lnkd.in/dpt5kXq
Starfish Search. Leadership journeys, expertly navigated.
2020 and the rise of the wholehearted Board
The longer–term implications on boards of 2020 will not only affect the way they operate in future, but also how they are built and how they are led. Both the Covid-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement have shone a light brightly on some longstanding issues that many suspected were already there. The transition from the pandemic now forces positive change and growth. While governance structures, and trustee selection and utilisation, are ripe for review, for some boards the events of 2020 have already led to a much more fundamental look at the board’s role and capability. Here, thedevelopment of those teams is perhaps based on a realisation that experience and skills alone are not enough to govern well. Instead, resilient, sustainable boards require people who bring their whole selves to the board room to participate: diversity in its truest sense.
Perhaps the four biggest questions boards are now asking themselves are:
- Are we still relevant? Even for boards that have previously championed inclusion and diversity, this remains a massive question. In order to govern their organisations effectively, and to have rich and rounded debate, boards must be able to reflect the experiences and perspectives of their audiences and client groups. Inclusive and balanced boards with diversity that reaches through and beyond the most talked about or visible protected characteristics is essential. Painting by numbers on a board is not enough: boards that move with confidence into the future will be diverse in a three-dimensional way – their background, their experiences and their engagement. They will be supported by a board culture that sets the conditions for true diversity to flourish and reach its potential in terms of creativity, insight, ‘connectedness’ and challenge power.
- Are we still talking about the right things? One of the mistakes many boards make lies in forgetting to take a step back and review whether they too need to change in line with the executive they are overseeing. Executive leaders are looking to their boards more than ever before to support them in navigating uncertainty, and to help them innovate and seize opportunity in a challenging transition phase. Boards are exposed and their organisations vulnerable if they are unable to provide the right gauge of leadership at the right moment. Boards that have come through Covid successfully have been adaptable as a team and as individuals, able to assess quickly the implications of environmental factors on service users and audiences, and have had the visibility they need across huge swathes of the operating environment to make connections.
- What does this mean for our people? Boards are rightly asking themselves whether they are still equipped with the right skills, experiences and perspectives. Plans for board succession may now change radically, or be further defined in a way that takes a broader range of qualities, values and attributes into account. Subject matter expertise,capacity to support and scrutinise in key areas (such as data or legal, people and finance) and leverage and influence will still be valued by boards to a greater or lesser degree. However, the broader life experiences that have until now been viewed as somehow separate to professional value will gain in importance, with the rise of a new and more rounded view of what it means to be an effective board member.
- Who are we choosing to walk forward with? A time of crisis, of review and then of consolidation will emphasise the importance of friendships and alliances. This is a time to think laterally about those partnerships that will count in delivering impact. There is no doubt that the events of 2020 have been a catalyst for new conversations; while competition for resource will intensify, there is a major opportunity to break down unhelpful barriers between organisations where they share common goals. Now is the time when finding willing partners and embracing innovation and creativity together can be more valuable than ever – and more fulfilling.
While pre-2020 many boards have looked great on paper and felt good in practice, there is now an unrivalled opportunity to move to a new way of being. After all, a year of tough decisions, of unprecedented demand on time and potential, must mean something positive in the end. It is precisely this challenge that the spirit of many trustees and their chairs was always meant for.
Starfish Search. Leadership journeys, expertly navigated.