I retired a couple of years ago as Chief Financial Officer of a tech company, having spent many years working with Execs to deliver challenging objectives, and discussing progress with Non Execs at briefings and at Board meetings. Retirement means changes, and putting aside my CFO persona and learning how to relax were strange new challenges to me.

I should start by saying that retirement is great as it allows you to focus on things you enjoy and causes you consider important. It’s up to you to decide whether and how you want to support these causes, and if you feel like making more of a tangible contribution you should consider becoming a Non Executive Director (NED).

I suspect that many people are curious about what a NED role involves and what it ‘feels like’. Now that I am one year into my first NED role, I can share with you what I have learned.

  1. The role is all about people. The Exec team along with fellow NEDs and trusted third parties. It’s about supporting the Exec team and where possible to make their job easier.
  2. Whilst providing a level of independent governance, it’s not about micro-managing the CEO. You trust the CEO to get on with the job, and recognise that their job is complex and difficult, realistically CEO’s can only really focus on a small number of things at one time.
  3. Recognise that things go wrong from time to time, and that the important question is ‘what are we doing about it’.
  4. Organisations often provide big (time consuming) decks to Board meetings to demonstrate progress, but a NED needs to understand how the organisation is performing against its strategy, objectives and KPI’s, and you need to have clear line of sight here. Getting this information in a digestible form, saves time.

There are a few times when your input is more valuable, particularly when it comes to reviewing strategy and agreeing the budget, but for the most part it’s hands off. I probably dedicate ten hours a quarter to the role, it’s not that onerous for me.

Having reflected back on how I have performed the role, there are some things that I will do differently going forward. The challenge is change my behaviour so that I think less like an Exec. It helps to review in detail the Board papers, and not feel the need to test the information or ask associated questions in a way that an Exec would. Also finding better ways of providing feedback when I am concerned about something – it’s about finding the balance between being direct and using effective influencing skills.

To sum up, I consider being a NED to be a privilege. For those that are considering undertaking a role, I would recommend it – just make sure that you have enough time on your hands, and a willingness to listen.