Advertising for board members – 5 common failings

Appoint has helped 140 organisations promote their governance roles over the last year. Some received many high quality applications. Others didn’t.

While we acknowledge that an organisation’s brand and the level of remuneration on offer can influence applicants, mitigating the following five failings will always lead to a better response.

Paucity of information

You get out what you put in, so one or two line position descriptions don’t cut it.  Not only does the lack of detail fail to capture the interest of a potential director but it also reeks of “we haven’t thought too much about this” or “we can’t really be bothered”. First impressions do count.  Similarly, experience requirements that simply read “We require the person to have  requisite governance skills” or “A background in our industry would be an advantage” are lazy.

Not for Profit organisations tend to be the worst offenders in this area. Is it because they are under resourced and lack time to produce a full job description? Or is it  because they are desperate to find any director or trustee to volunteer their time so don’t want to make the screening criteria too specific?

Our application statistics show a direct correlation between the time and effort put in to crafting a detailed role description and the quality and quantity of the response.

Lengthy “Applications Close” Dates

Human nature sees many individuals submit their application on the last day.  Extending the closing date just prolongs the process and frustrates those potential board members who applied early (as they await to hear the outcome).  Worse still are roles that state “open until filled” as there is an insufficient call to action.

We suggest a period of three weeks (spanning two fortnightly email broadcasts on Appoint) as the ideal time for positions to remain open.

Failure to sell the sizzle

Good directors don’t need more roles, particularly unpaid ones.  They need to be attracted and inspired and this requires organisations to sell the sizzle.  And don’t think the sizzle is all in the brand or the pay.  Focus on the cause, the calibre of current board members, the quality of existing governance process, the ability to learn or the opportunity to invest.

Failing that, be honest and focus on the challenge!

If the tenure of the role is for less than two years then this should be explained. Also, think carefully about how the appointment process represents the organisation…. yes, we’re looking at those of you who ask people to post their application (rather than email or via online).

Remunerating the role

We know, we know….”Our organisation doesn’t have the funds [to pay the people ultimately responsible for its success]!” However, many capable directors and trustees are, understandably, looking to include paid roles in their portfolio. We encourage organisations to pay even a nominal meeting fee if possible.  This will differentiate the role from similar unpaid ones and attract greater interest from more capable board members.

As always, our first port of call for any remuneration advice is Strategic Pay.

Slow feedback to applicants

We receive a lot of positive feedback when we advise directors that their application will not go through to the next stage….because we are honest and let them know quickly.  We communicate to all applicants within a week of application closing date.  Don’t leave the task of sending “thanks but no thanks” emails out until the board member is appointed – it’s too long.  Send “no” emails to the definite “no’s” and a “we’re still considering you so please bear with us” email to those when you require more time.

Displaying this respect to all applicants creates a lasting brand experience.  Remember that  a candidate who is not right for this role may become a great board member fit in subsequent years.

Considering a new board appointment?

Please make contact with us when you are at the formative stages of your board appointment process. We’re happy to share our experience or play a role in facilitating it for you.


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My new venture…

It had been gnawing away at me for a couple of years.  There had to be a better way of connecting boards with individuals wanting to share their governance experience. New Zealand needs stronger privately owned businesses and not for profits. But did I need another call on my time and long evenings at my Mac?

Well, no, but launched in late April anyway!  I’d love your help…

1) if you are interested in director jobs (commercial or not for profit) please take 30 seconds to register and see if any of the 7 current roles are of interest

2) if you know any organisations searching for trustees and directors, please let me know

3) please share appoint with two other people who have an interest in boards or being a board member

appoint has a strong social enterprise element to it – we plan to play our small part in building stronger organisations in New Zealand. We’re also committed to bringing greater diversity of thinking and backgrounds into our country’s boardrooms.

Thanks for helping us out.

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Four more years

New All Black’s coach, Steve Hansen, has one overarching goal: to retain the RWC.  And he knows that winning will come down to preparation and planning. If you’re looking to map out similar success for your business in 2015 and beyond, then here are ten ideas to help lead you to victory.

1.   Scoring own goals

What are your personal (non business) goals? These should be discussed and defined before embarking on the business aspects of the process. There is little use creating a business direction that, in hindsight, fails to support what truly matters in your non-work life.

2. The higher authority

Assume your efforts have resulted in a beautifully crafted plan. Now, who’s going hold you accountable for its achievement? Yourself? Maybe, but it takes a remarkable person to remain true to the course when the going gets rough. Firm up your coaches and independent advisers in advance of the planning. Better still: have them on the planning team.

3.   Use your bench

Diversity in backgrounds, age, experience and ideas are key attributes in a successful planning team. Remember that two people with the same ideas are effectively one person. A balanced mix of internal and external participants will lead to a higher quality outcome than a team of one. Note that seniority is not necessarily a trait that equates to superior strategic contribution.

4.   Neutral umpires

A strategic planning programme led by an external facilitator, rather than yourself, will be more effective. Ideas from all participants tend to flow more freely and the outsourcing of the facilitation ensures that operational pressures are less likely to disrupt the quality of the sessions or overall timeframes.

 5.   Different game plan

Strategy, by its nature, means to change. “More of the same”is not strategic. Ensure there is a commitment from all parties, especially yourself, to change, stretch and evolve before any planning initiatives are undertaken.

 6.   Stretching and warm ups

Group sessions and off site strategy days are important however it’s the depth of reflection and analysis undertaken prior to these sessions that will help guarantee success. Use thinksheets to collate and aggregate ideas in advance. This leads to a better use of face to face time to discuss and evolve ideas rather than brainstorm from scratch.

7.   Focus on your own game

Your strategic challenge is to meet unmet customer needs. However identifying these can be really difficult especially when customers themselves struggle to articulate their own needs! Beware of creating brand or product homogeneity. Be unique and resist the temptation to simply mirror your competitors.

 8.   The power of Why

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.  Start your planning with the why and then move on to the what, who and how.  There’s a great Simon Sinek video that is useful for this: see

9.   Get the team onside

Not all your employees will be able to be part of the process (but they should have at least one representative). So communicate before, during and after the planning to aid buy in. When sharing the strategy, get staff involved in implementation ideas at that time.  Consider setting them the challenge of defining an audacious company goal.  Assign individual actions and let staff know how this will contribute to the overall success.

10. High vis-ulisation

Condense the written output in to a colourful one page visual. Then laminate copies and share with your entire team. We’ve all heard the anecdotes about the best written plans gathering dust in the bottom drawer!

This article, written by Simon Telfer, will be published in March’s edition of NZ Business.
Posted in Privately Owned Businesses, Strategy | 1 Comment

Demotivate your employees (or how not to)

Leading  people is one of the toughest parts of running a business.  Especially when change is afoot. How do you keep employees motivated? Or, more importantly, how do you keep your best employees motivated?

Check out this 3 minute video from Jim Collins (of Good to Great fame)…


1. Confront the brutal facts: tell them how it really is.
2. Engage your team in dialogue, debate and disagreement: before the decision has been made.
3. Show tangible results: success breeds success.

Are our politicians adept in these techniques? Opposition parties favour (1) eg aging population and superannuation costs.  Governing parties focus on (3) eg investment in police numbers lowering crime statistics. Occasionally we have incidences of (2) sometimes wrapped in a referendum eg voting systems

I’d love to hear examples of where Jim Collins’ approach has personally worked for you…

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(N)ice Ideas: video hi-lights

Six hundred attendees. Thirty speakers. Six minute slots. Their task: to share one big idea, challenge or lesson to significantly grow 3000 NZ companies. Here’s my Top 5 videos from the  Ice Ideas Conference held recently in Auckland:

1. Class Act
Derek Handley – The Hyperfactory, a mobile advertising corporation.
You have three options: enable, join or lead the revolution. Well worth watching if you haven’t heard Derek speak before.

2. Most Inspiring
Fady Mishriki – PowerByProxi, a wireless  power technology company.
A compelling presentation around the need for NZ to invest in its youth and immigrants.

3. Best Presenter
Mai Chen –  Chen/Palmer Public Law Specialists and NZ Global Women
A classic example of how to present using impact and humour, to hold an audience’s attention.

4. Most Practical
Mike Carden – Sonar6, performance management specialists.
A useful demonstration of how Sonar 6 reduced their salespeople from six to two and quadrupled sales.

5. The Highlights Reel
For a quick snapshot of the day.

On Reflection
It was a stimulating event with a few practical initiatives already launched via  “Go global, young man” was a common catch cry by all, to all, throughout the day.

My one disappointment was a predominant focus on entrepreneurs and start ups and a lack of  discussion on how our mid sized, privately owned businesses can contribute to the 3000 company goal. Fortunately David Irving referenced these “understated heroes” and  NZ’s “owner manager engine room” heavily during his presentation.

Similarly, there was a strong technology focus during the day, but it needs to be recognised that are far broader range of industries exist in NZ, all with the potential to grow exports and earnings.

IceIdeas left me even more motivated to work with those ambitious business owners  committed to grow their $5m companies in to $20m operations and their $20m businesses in to $100m.

Posted in General Business, NZ Business Environment | 1 Comment

Sell products, not services

If you want a scalable or sellable business then consider standardising your services in to products.

I love services: creating them, pricing them, selling and delivering them.  But they have their challenges: the perils of time based billing, continual client tailoring and the need for more sophistication around staff engagement and management.

Two recent experiences got me thinking about delivering services as a product: pro-vices or ser-ducts anyone?

1.  John Warrillow’s book Built to Sell is a recommended read for SME owners. The story addresses the common issue of business owners being the fulcrum around which everything revolves and is reliant. This may be fine until the business wants to seriously grow or contemplate a sale – and the issue is magnified in smaller services companies.

Warrillow’s test for a scalable business is as follows:

Is what your business does teachable? (easy for other employees or technology to deliver) Is it valuable? (specialisation allows you to maintain a high price point)
Is it repeatable? (provide for recurring revenue).

But can your business scale? Google, predominantly a product company, can while McKinsey (being a services company) struggles.  As Alex Taussig puts simply, “if you have to add operating costs (sales, marketing, administration, R&D, etc.) at the same rate you grow revenue, then your business does not scale.”

2.  I recently completed a strategic planning programme for technology business, Navitas.  The directors, John and Steve, had been struggling to build scale over the last 10 years.  With broad technical expertise and quality output, large clients relied on them to deliver complex, bespoke software.  And therein lay the problem.  They were actually offering a service: highly customised, highly consultative, time billed solutions.  They built it once… and sold it once.

While working on diverse projects across multiple technologies was stimulating it wasn’t getting John and Steve closer to their personal goals.  Specialisation, although daunting, was needed. Previous experience and success within the energy industry and a strong competency in metering related software led to the identification of a natural niche.

Navitas are now transitioning to a product based mindset.  One of their goals is to ensure  the next enterprise level project is built once and sold at least four times.  To support this transition further strategies around industry thought leadership,  funding and sales and marketing have been developed.

So, do you have a service offering that could be standardised?  Consider starting by:

  • creating a step by step process for its delivery
  • give the offering a name and a brand promise
  • fix its price
  • provide for only minimal customisation and
  • ensure no individual (including yourself) is integral to the ongoing delivery of the offering.

Develop it once, sell it multiple times – your challenge for Q2!

Posted in General Business, Owner Managers, Privately Owned Businesses | 1 Comment

Inspiration: straight from the Kiwi’s mouth

Seven world class NZers shared their passions and insights with me earlier today.  Here’s a snapshot of what inspired me and what could help you & your business…

Michael Boustridge – President of BT Global Services, USA

Businesses need to collaborate. Building a product from start to finish yourself will become rare. Visual technology is key – harness video & video conferencing.

Derek Handley – Co-founder and CEO, Hyperfactory, USA

NZ is more ‘inventive’ than ‘innovative’. Innovation requires commercialisation, something we need to become a lot better at.

Sam Morgan – Founder,Trade Me

Trust is one of the biggest competitive advantages we have as NZ business people. It is recognised and valued internationally.

Sarah Robb O’Hagan – President Gatorade North America, USA

Play to win in your business decisions rather than playing not to lose.  Also, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Have the courage to say no.

Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas – director and policy adviser, UK

New skills and experiences gained in the voluntary sector can be invaluable when transitioned in to a commercial environment. Grab each and every opportunity – you don’t want to regret the hesitation.

Dr Karen Wilcox – Assoc Prof of Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT, USA

Everyone needs mentors and heroes.


I was also fortunate to attend the Icehouse 10 year Anniversary event  in late March. Here’s what Tim Alpe, founder of Jucy rentals shared:

  • “Follow the kiwi”…he’s had great success with expat kiwis heading up his international expansions
  • “Find the king”… and then help that person/employee to build their kingdom
  • “Hire people slightly too big for the role “…I’m sure you’ve heard this before


Finally I  spent half a day with futurist, David Houle, courtesy of TEC – The Executive Connection. Here are three of my key learnings:

  • If you are a middleman then your days are numbered. Dis-intermediation is only going to get more prolific. To stay viable in the middle you’d better be adding huge value.
  • Change isn’t something that you will need to occasionally ‘go through’. It’s now a constant.  Adaptability and resilience are key  leadership traits needed to navigate this Transformation Decade.
  • Work and place are separating.  The only reason to have an office is to encourage collaboration.  Otherwise….work from home.

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