Lynne Weedall has always opted to work in ‘people-centric organisations’. She currently sits on the boards of Greggs, Stagecoach Bus and Softcat plc (she chairs the RemCo on these boards), and is a senior independent director (SID) at Dr Martens and a trustee at The Prince’s Trust. As an executive, she was most recently group HR director at Selfridges Group and, before that, group HR and strategy director at Carphone Warehouse, where she worked on the merger with Dixons (now Currys plc).

Despite choosing more people-focused businesses, she has nonetheless seen interest in the ‘softer aspects’ of the people agenda – such as culture and wellbeing – gain traction in the boardroom. “Proving the business case no longer feels necessary: it’s about ‘How do we do it?’ That means HR’s understanding of people brings value to boardroom discussions, given that ‘organisations are living breathing things full of human beings, not human doings.’” But it is by no means enough.

Lynne advises ambitious HR professionals to think about developing ‘T-shaped’ skills, with breadth and depth, and to consider what they bring beyond people expertise (for her, that included complex M&A transactions and strategy). Seek opportunities to hone your boardroom and meeting chairing skills before landing a paid directorship, through opportunities such as chairing internal committees, volunteer/not-for-profit roles, and network extensively, especially with those who have board roles already and with other relevant stakeholders, such as investors or brokers.

Aspiring NEDs should think deeply about why they want to take on a non-executive career. “There can be a misconception that it’s a cool, flexible thing to do,” Lynne says. “But the truth is, it’s an incredibly accountable role without many of the levers available that you have as an exec. Real accountability equals risk, and the requirement for courage. Be clear on your motivation and what you’re hoping to achieve, on what you stand for and what you stand against.”

While finding the first role can be a ‘numbers game’, it’s preferable, given the reputational risks involved, to get ‘no role rather than the wrong role’. Do as much due diligence as you can, including speaking to current and former staff, board members, advisers, brokers and auditors, reading investor presentations and annual and audit reports – you could even ask to see the latest board evaluation. “Don’t get seduced by the brand,” Lynne cautions. “It’s more important to think about the people around the board table.”

She laughs when she recalls her first board meeting as a NED: “I went in all guns blazing, trying to impress people. The SID took me to one side to say: ‘Dial it down a bit.’” More than a decade later, she knows that being an effective NED is “a bit like being a lifeguard: you spend a lot of time sitting on your hands but when you need to get in, you really need to move.”

Lynne’s top tips

  • No role is better than the wrong role – do your due diligence.
  • Think carefully about why you want to be a NED, what you are hoping to achieve and what you bring.
  • Find opportunities to develop your boardroom and chairing skills, and to develop beyond HR.

In this series

Case study

Advancing your career from HRD to NED: Barry Hoffman

Case study advice on finding the right NED role and understanding your accountability as a board member

Case study

Advancing your career from HRD to NED: Jean Tomlin OBE

Case study advice on finding a NED role that shares your values and how to make an immediate impact

Case study

Advancing your career from HRD to NED: Louise Wilson

Case study advice on understanding the time commitment of a NED role and the skills you need to act as a ‘critical friend’

Case study

Advancing your career from HRD to NED: Simon Linares

Case study advice on deciding whether a NED role is for you and the difference between executive and non-executive roles

Case study

Advancing your career from HRD to NED: Valerie Gordon-Walker

Case study advice on gaining broad experiences to position yourself for a NED position

HRD to NED: How to advance
your career

Insight from board-level headhunters and HR leaders who have landed NED roles to help you set yourself up for success.

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