A few years ago – in addition to our Chairman who has been with us for a dozen or so years - MorePeople appointed a new non-exec director to work with the main board to help us achieve our ambitious plans.
The value of a non-exec is something that plenty of businesses seem to understand and appreciate, but there are probably a lot of organisations out there who are either missing an opportunity or are stuck in the (eek) 'we’ve-just-always-done-it-this-way' camp.
In this short article, MorePeople's Managing Director, Andrew Fitzmaurice, proffers five points (with a healthy dose of movie and TV references!) to think about when considering the impact of a non-exec:
Far be it for me to tell you what your business needs – I’m yet to be offered a slot on Ted Talks to discuss the subject – but these are based on not only my own experiences working with our non-exec but also from the tidbits of info I have gleaned from talking to main boards all over the food, ag and hort sectors.
1. Brief the non-exec on what you want from them. As with most things in life, you are going to get out what you put in. The idea that a non-exec will arrive and through the art of bonsai simply Mr Miyagi your business into good shape isn’t going to happen. As is the case in all appointments, the objectives, expectations and responsibilities need to be set out clearly otherwise people might end up talking at cross purposes or have no idea whether or not they are adding value.
2. Hire the right culture. The person you are going to invite into your business (and board meetings) needs to fit the culture you have (or perhaps serve as an enabler towards the culture you are looking to create). ‘Hire for culture, train for skill’ as the saying goes. Hopefully the non-exec brings with them a truckload of skill but the all-important ‘fit’ shouldn’t be underestimated with a non-exec appointment. Mary Poppins seemed to be the mentor that the Banks’ residence needed but city banker Mr Banks was cut from a different cloth and those cultures clashed often (until he got fired, had a laugh and seemed to re-find his good spirit through the medium of kite flying – imagine that in the 2008 credit crunch!).
3. Listen to them. Like bottles and straws (excluding McDonalds latest reformation) floating in the sea, the world seems littered with stories of non-execs who were, well, basically ignored. If you’re going to be paying someone what amounts to a few hundred pounds per hour then you might as well take note of what they’re saying. Their experience and guidance is what you need isn’t it? You don’t have to agree all the time but to simply not listen is surely to miss the point. Insert Mufasa and Simba stampede cautionary tale here.
4. Give them time. Your business is undoubtedly complicated and unique (‘we are all unique’ I hear you chant together) and you’ve probably been working there a while and you work on the main board after all so you understand it well. If perhaps you have hired someone from outside the sector – often this is a good idea since they’ll bring challenging new ideas to the table – you need to remember that it is going to take a while to get to know you, understand the sector, and then develop their ideas on what your business needs. It took the improbably-named (and worst on-screen Egyptian of all time) Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez quite a while to make a difference to Connor MacLeod’s swordsmanship to guarantee that he didn’t lose his head.
5. Don’t expect the earth. Oftentimes you will find that the advice from a non-exec is to keep doing what you’re doing. I find that, whilst our non-exec is incredibly useful as a mentor and business guide, we often agree on things and we do, for the most part, need to keep doing what we are doing. Cynics will, at this point, roll out the consultant cliché; ‘Consultants borrow your watch to tell you the time and then charge you for it’, but I don’t see it that way. Don’t get me wrong, he frequently challenges us often and holds us to account on the things we need to get done to move our business forwards too but to hear that we are on the right tracks can be just as valuable. Either way I massively appreciate the presence and guidance of our non-exec.
Business can be guilty of believing their own rhetoric, doing the same things over and over or wildly changing direction in the hope of finding a magic recipe. Remember, no amount of putting advice from Chubbs was ever going to make Happy….well….er….. happy.