This topic is one that crops up a lot when speaking to my network, as transitioning from a senior HR role to a Non-Executive Director (NED) position on a board is a significant career progression. While both roles require, strategic thinking, effective communication and ethical judgment and integrity, they focus on different aspects of a business's operations. The transition therefore requires both preparation, personal development, and a shift in skill set.
Regularly, we circulate market insights and client observations to our candidate network, emphasizing the value of firsthand knowledge, and with this in mind, Helena Feltham, a HR expert with over 30 years’ experience in the consumer-facing and HR leadership space and over 5 years acting as a NED, shared her unique journey at our dinner.
Currently serving as an independent NED for Hostmore Plc (the proprietor of the TGI Fridays chain) and Redcentric plc, Helena's pedigree also includes non-executive tenures with the NHS, Retail Trust, and more recently as the Interim Chair of Ted Baker after her initial appointment as a Senior Independent NED in 2019. Drawing from her expansive career, she provided invaluable guidance on transitioning to Board roles, coupled with insights into challenges faced and lessons gleaned.
- Start early and gain experience. Before stepping into a NED role in a larger organization, you might want to gain experience first by serving on the board of a smaller company, a nonprofit, or a public sector organization. This will provide valuable insights into how boards operate and give you practical experience in a boardroom setting.
- Developing the necessary skills. While the HR role gives you a good base of people management and company culture knowledge, NED roles require a broader understanding of business. You'll need to develop a strategic mindset, understanding of corporate governance and regulations, financial acumen, and an ability to challenge and support at board level. It’s important to broaden your remit, and this might require additional training courses or qualifications, which you may be able to embark on during your current role.
- Be curious and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask other advisors for support. If you needed to get your head around the company’s annual report for example, ask for certain elements to be explained if you don’t understand them (e.g. the Head of Risk and Audit). There are people always willing to help.
- Positioning yourself. You'll need to position yourself for NED roles. This involves showcasing your achievements in HR alongside the wider experience you’ve gained. Acquire and leverage the support of the people around you, such as the CEO, and evidence transformational leadership ability with both an internal and external focus.
- Understanding the impact of external issues. It’s important to be able to articulate a high-level perspective of a company’s strategic direction, and how their objectives might be impacted by issues such as ESG, ED&I and technology/AI. Take the time to understand the attitudes and behaviours of your customer and client base, thinking about the issues that they would like to see you embrace more.
- Building a network. Board positions are often filled through networks. Build relationships with executive search firms who have an established Board practice and client base. They’ll be the first to know when a suitable opening comes up. Beginning to network with other directors, attending industry events, and becoming active in director associations can be a good way to find opportunities. But think about exactly what you want to get out of these networking opportunities to make it worthwhile.
- Make a plan and stick to it. Having a clear, step-by-step plan is beneficial when navigating the journey from a HRD to NED. You need to understand the role requirements and be clear as to = what the milestones are to achieving your goal. The roadmap will involve continuous learning, networking, and gaining relevant experience, which will be key to your success in making this move.
In summary, take the time to develop yourself and your offering. Draw on the experience of those around you and put yourself in positions where you can gain exposure to areas of a business that you may not otherwise be privy to. Remember, this is a significant career transition, which may take time and patience to achieve, and preparation will be a considerable factor on how quickly and confidently you can move into your first NED position.
With an established Board practice led by Partner, Tanya Gass, Norman Broadbent adeptly collaborates with a variety of clients, leveraging its expertise to find and secure the ideal members for their Board. Tanya concurs with Helena's insights and adds that boards are increasingly realising the importance of the HRD skillset to add value to discussions on people, culture and reputational issues.