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The other side of the fence

Throughout my career, I’ve judged many awards but haven’t often been on the receiving end. 

It’s not a position I thought I would appreciate being in, but when I was nominated for The Non-Executive Director Awards 2017 and I made the shortlist in the Not-For-Profit/Public Service Organisation category, I surprised myself by really enjoying the experience.

The whole process was instigated by a long-standing friend and associate who felt, after 30 years of serving on 20 boards, that she would like to see me recognised for this work.

It was a baton that was then passed on to and taken up by, the leaders of two boards I sit on – a managing director and head teacher – who were asked to tell the judges about the impact I’d had on their organisations.

And I made the shortlist!

Here on in, the judging process was both stretching and thoughtful – and of huge value to me as well as the judge, as it provided a great opportunity for reflective practice.  

I was delighted to be allocated Professor Ruth Bender from Cranfield School of Management, who conducted a well-structured and searching telephone interview around three main areas – impacts made on strategy and financial success, challenging the accepted thinking of executives and good corporate governance.

Professor Bender was not only able to shine a light on what NEDs do, but also what makes for exceptional performance that goes unnoticed by the untrained eye.  What’s more, her questions gave me a chance to hold myself to account and as the dialogue unfolded, she pretty much facilitated an appraisal and review process that I found hugely beneficial. 

I was delighted to then make the final list of five in this category and thoroughly enjoyed The Non-Executive Director Awards 2017 ceremony last month, which was ultimately won by the brilliant Valerie Owen of Swan Housing Association.  

What really differentiated this event from so many others is that it wasn’t about buying tables in order to be there.  Invite only, it focussed on ensuring that the people who were there were NEDs and those who understood the importance of recruiting strong and diverse NEDs. 

The charismatic Dame Helen Alexandra chaired the awards and spoke eloquently about the importance of effective NEDs, while taking the opportunity to remind us all about the importance of diverse boards – highlighting that the wider the perspective, the more likely we are to identify and better understand risk. 

I particularly relished the opportunity to meet NEDs from other sectors, but wish I had seen more people from commercial and national boards seek out the not-for-profit candidates to find out more about the extraordinary things they were doing, or those NEDs in other sectors and other regions outside of London.    

All in all, though, this was a fabulous experience for me and one I would happily repeat – the other side of the fence isn’t so bad after all!

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