An NED Journey: Reflections
20th September 2021
Creating this guide with contributions from many experienced NEDs and experts gave me an opportunity to reflect deeply on the significant contribution Non-Executive Directors can make to the family firms they serve.
The guide covers so many mission-critical issues about the NED journey and I hope you will read it.
Some of the things I have been reflecting on as an NED myself are around contribution and impact.
How do we know as NEDs that we are making a meaningful difference and having an impact in the ways the company and family we work for were looking for?
I have found it helpful not to think of the role as being defined to the Board room, board papers and Board meetings as have many of the NEDs I have spoken to. Often the biggest impact comes from conversations outside of the Boardroom, checking in with family members, other Board members or getting to know a particular aspect of the business.
Obviously, NEDs are not there to be operational, but we do need a holistic view of the business, the ownership and the company’s external environment in order to make informed decisions. And we do need to understand how the family and business operate in order to understand how to be most useful in the decision-making processes themselves.
One of the many fantastic pieces of advice I received when I first became an NED, from people with far more experience than me, was to listen and observe first, the contribution would come later from a place of knowledge. Whilst I couldn’t agree more with the advice, I also found myself being asked for my views in my very first Board meeting as an NED. It led me to thinking a little more deeply about where to contribute, where to reserve my views until a later date and where to say ‘this is not my area of expertise but I know someone else who will be able to help us’. I think a key word for any NED is discernment. When do you state your views, where will incisive questions serve the Board room dialogue better, where do you do ‘step in’ and when do you ‘keep out’? Where do you need to plug your own knowledge gaps and where do you lean on your network for support and advice? Are you being the outside perspective the business needs and the kind but critical friend or might you catch yourself agreeing with things you don’t agree with to avoid rocking the boat or causing conflict? If so, how do you go about making the necessary changes? There are no easy answers and every situation, family and business are different. One thing I would always suggest, which sounds extremely obvious but please indulge me – talk to other NEDs, it’s so incredibly useful and I cannot recommend it enough. This will help you keep a current, outside perspective and help you avoid any blind spots, just to mention the obvious and immediate benefits. But as with anything, it’s often the unexpected conversations and collaborations that arise from these conversation that prove the most valuable in the long run.