Event Review: 'Beat Your Way to the Boardroom' from Cracking Boards
“What’s in a name?”
So says Shakespeare’s Juliet when pondering the family feud between Romeo’s Montagues and her own Capulets. For those two families the names are everything and carry with them serious and grave implications. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” she continues, thinking that if only Romeo had a different moniker, their relationship could progress unimpeded.
Well, when it comes to business, it seems that a name – or at least a title – has very serious implications indeed.
Put it this way; Juliet only had family to deal with, but the rest of us have the full weight of the law.
As a participant on the Cracking Boards aspiring Directors workshop, I learned in the space of a just few hours enough to realise that:
a) If more people were aware of the implications of being ‘Director’, they might not find it quite such a desirable prospect
b) You only need to carry the title on your business card and you can still be burdened with the exact same responsibilities as the real McCoy.
Yes, really. Apparently it’s all to do with perception and the ‘test’ is one of reasonableness.
If someone has ‘reasonable’ grounds to assume you a Director, then for all intents and purposes, you are. Inflate your job title at your peril!
The workshop itself is a fairly pacey affair. Aimed at both aspiring Executives and those considering non-Executive posts, it’s enjoyable and informative, albeit acting as something of a cold shower. Our session is led by Jo Haigh, a corporate finance specialist, author of a number of business books and seasoned veteran of the boardroom. Through her ‘day job’, she has bought and sold over 300 companies, including many that are owner-managed. There’s not much she hasn’t seen when it comes to the trials and tribulations of running a business. With us she is animated, robust, firm and engaging. We’re in good hands.
Jo’s first task for us is a questionnaire on various aspects of being a director. “Multiple choice! Excellent!” thinks I, at first glance, before reading the detail: When is a Director responsible for Board decisions made when he or she is not there? reads question 4. I realise that perhaps I think I know, but am not actually 100% sure. Simultaneously I, and the rest of the room, begin to realise that we absolutely should know. The tone for the day is emerging.
I should point out that the purpose of the workshop is not to put people off, though Jo is open with the fact that it does – and should – make people think twice before going for a place at the top table.
Fundamentally, this is about equipping people with the knowledge they need before it’s too late. This includes some gems that too many high profile individuals (naming no names) seem to have forgotten of late, such as that as a Director one’s statutory duty is to promote the success of the organisation – as opposed to oneself! Too many folk get what they believe to be the job of their dreams, with little knowledge of what their legal, or indeed moral, obligations really are. Yes, most of us are clear that a limited company or a PLC or an LLP is an independent legal entity, but how many of us could confidently say that we understand our real responsibilities and liabilities as a Director of said entity?
A lively, interactive, informative day is punctuated by some real home truths. Perhaps my favourite (if that’s the right word for something that sends a slight chill down your spine) is when Jo says that “To be a Director, you don’t even need to be listed at Companies House. If you make strategic decisions about the direction of the company, you are Director.” It even applies, it seems, to consultants who, to avoid potentially sticky situations, must always be clear that they are giving advice upon which the real Directors can choose to act, or not. Blimey. All the same rules apply to public bodies such as charities, Foundation Trust hospitals and Academy Schools which for all intents and purposes are businesses like any other.
The latter part of the day is focused mainly on what it takes to become a Non-Executive Director and many of the same rules apply. One thing is for sure though, it’s a competitive market and we learn that as more people explore the possibility of a portfolio career, the odds are lengthening for every application made.I find myself thinking that there is essentially a system of NED ‘internships’:
Basically, if you want a paid role, earn your stripes in any way possible, including taking an unpaid position to get going.
My feeling is that Cracking Boards has enough content for separate events in the Exec and NED space. I see a big need for this kind of thing being part of in-house development in organisations that look to promote from within – not to mention really useful for many who are already in the role. Where else do you learn it? It could help mitigate risk at organisational level as well as provide essential knowledge for individuals. The NED world is a whole other matter and there’s probably a great opportunity to provide development, insight and support for those who are actively looking to pursue this route.
Cracking Boards is a specialist training company run by Charlotte Mason and Jo Haigh. More information is at:www.crackingboards.com
Hatty Richmond's background is in management consultancy, specialising in organisational development and design. She has a particular interest in the role of leadership in determining culture and the resulting impact on performance. Alongside her consulting work, Hatty writes both fiction and non-fiction including articles, profiles and short stories.
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