Key steps to getting your first (or any) board role

Getting a board role is a competitive market, with more than 200 applications for some roles. But, there are some key things you can do to get you ahead of the pack. Here Women on Boards Queensland representative - specialist consultant in governance and human resources and a trusted advisor and mentor - Anna Hebron, shares her top tips to getting your first board role and advice on succeeding in the boardroom

Anna's Hebron's Tips to Getting your First Board Role

1. Look at your network
Put it out there and let your network know that you are looking to develop your board career. If people are aware of your goals, they are more likely to assist and consider or recommend you for roles.

2. Follow your passion
A starting point is to follow your passion. For example, if it’s working with kids and horses, then to talk to the chair or CEO of a pony club or like organisation. Make proactive contact with the CEO or Chair of organisations that interest you. They may not have a position available now, but if you’re on their radar you may be considered in future. Let them know why you want a role and what you can bring to a position. Be clear about what you are interested in.

3. Articulate your value
Learn how to articulate your value proposition and what you can bring to a board. Be ready to have a conversation when needed. It may not materialize straight away, but people will remember your conversation and come back to you when a role becomes available.

4. Start with a Committee
A school committee or sporting club can be a great place to start so you can dip your toe in the water.

5. It’s all about timing
I’ve seen colleagues do courses and become board ready and then get frustrated because nothing has happened. But it’s about connecting with people, so you are in known when there is a need.

6. Have patience
It’s not an overnight pathway. Apply for roles, ring up about roles, talk to people to understand if you can add value. Practice articulating your value proposition. It will come together if you are consistent.

7. Understand the time commitment
Knowing how much time will be require is critical for any role you are looking at. There are no hard and fast rules as it will depend on the role but to be successful you need to prepare for meetings properly. If you don’t have the time then don’t do it. Anna says her Appeals Tribunal can have cases with 600+ pages and be very time consuming, whereas the time needed for Inala Primary Care is a few hours per meeting.  Ask questions around expectations on time, how long it takes to go through the papers and how long the meetings take.

8. Get targeted
Pick your events, make them targeted and get people talking. A great conversation starter is asking someone about their business’ challenges and their board and committee structure.

9. Start NOW
People often say they are still in their executive career so won’t start it yet. Anna says get out there and make a start, so you can get into practice. It’s a long process, so the sooner you start the sooner you will see results.

Anna's tips on succeeding in the boardroom

1. Understand your strengths and weaknesses
Take the time to really look at yourself to understand your strengths and your capability gaps. From there you can develop a one pager outlining where you need to develop your skills so you feel confident enough to apply for roles.

2. Know your numbers
Anna says it’s important that you know your numbers and can read a financial statement. You don’t need to be an accountant, but you do need to understand how the business is performing and to identify solvency markers. To develop her financial skills Anna says she used a variety of methods, including sitting down with CFOs and finance managers for informal training as well as undertaking courses, including WOB’s Financial Literacy workshop.

3. Understand Risk
A key skill required by a NED is to be able to step back and identify risks - so you can ask the probing questions and determine the potential impact. This is important to encourage robust discussion and understand how risks will translate to the business.

4. Understand (agile) Governance
Understand your role on the board and that you are there to be a steward for the organisation, not for yourself.

Anna says if you can tie processes back to people you can provide a fit for purpose and agile framework that provides autonomy for the organisation to make the right decisions. There are ways to boost your skills in this area, with both short and long courses available. It’s also important to undertake continual training as laws are constantly changing.

5. Be Your Best Director Self
It’s critical to have self-awareness in your capacity as a director to be your best director self. Ask yourself questions such as can you have a conflict conversation that ends productively and provides a robust decision that supports the organisation? It’s also important to develop your skills around listening to the organisation to understand what their pressures are, so you can determine how you can help them move forward.

About Anna

With a senior career in governance, human resources and leadership spanning local, state and Federal government government, Anna’s career led her to work across the nation in Brisbane, Darwin and Canberra. Her roles were varied and included working for the Women’s Advisory Council and the Department of Immigration, where she was on the Detention Taskforce, attended Senate estimate committees to support the minister and escorted the Human Rights Commissioner’s tour of the Wimmera Detention centre. Anna then returned to Brisbane to hold a number of leadership roles at Brisbane City council, including leading the Story Bridge’s 75-year commemoration, managing the Traffic Management Centre for the G20 leaders’ summit and heading disaster management during the flood crisis. It was here that Anna mastered leading from the front in a crisis, where says her passion for governance and process enabled her to simplify disaster management policies to facilitate good decisions under pressure.

Anna now runs her own business as a consultant in governance and human resources and is a trusted advisor and mentor as she establishes her encore career as a non-executive director.

Anna’s Board Roles
1. Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ), Appeals Tribunal, Appeals Tribunal, Appointed Member

About the role
Anna sits on a Tribunal with two auditors.  Her role is to provide the reasonable person’s perspective (which she does using her HR strengths), to review decisions made in ANZ’s disciplinary processes.

How she got the roleWhen the ad came up on the WOB website Anna says she thought it would offer the chance to improve her understanding of financial environments in a framework that she was comfortable in from her career in the public sector e.g. dealing with complaints and the disciplinary and appeals process

At the time the role was advertised Anna was undertaking courses to hone her financial acumen and felt confident enough to apply.

2. Non-Executive Director, Inala Primary Care Medical Centre
When Anna saw this role advertised she said it jumped out at her because it held a place close to her heart as her mother had worked there as a teacher. She was also looking to get into the health sector - so it seemed like the perfect fit.