Getting to the boardroom

Professor Victor Dulewicz looks at what HR managers can do to get on the

Why now?

There has never been a better time for HR directors and managers to secure
their place on the board. For years, the HR profession has bemoaned the fact
that it is under-represented at board level. Now, the Higgs Report (produced by
industry expert Derek Higgs) which looked at the role and effectiveness of
non-executive directors (NEDs), has recommended that companies choose their
NEDs from a wider range of disciplines and a greater number of people – what
Higgs calls a wider ‘gene pool’.

Why HR?

Don’t do yourselves down. HR professionals already possess expertise in
behavioural skills, remuneration, selection and development, as well as
numerous other skills and competencies that make them well placed to contribute
at board level.

What can I do to improve my chances?

The competencies needed to be an effective NED have been identified in a
study commissioned by Higgs and from earlier research conducted for the Government
by Henley Management College and the Institute of Directors (IoD). Competencies
can be split into enduring qualities (things like diagnostic ability,
independence and integrity, which can be difficult to develop) and others
skills such as strategic awareness and change-orientation, which can be

There’s not much scope to improve your enduring competencies – you either
have integrity or you don’t – but managers can enrol on business education
programmes to improve competencies such as perspective.

Higgs also emphasised the need for good ‘behavioural skills’ and teamwork in
the boardroom. Again, HR professionals are strides ahead of other disciplines
in these areas. So, hone your committee skills: make sure your prospective board
is aware of your ability to facilitate effective teams as well as your
persuasiveness and listening skills.

Be sure of the basics

You’ll need to be able to demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of your area,
but also make sure that your prospective chairman knows the range of
disciplines a modern HR manager must cover.

Additionally, you should be able to demonstrate a sound knowledge of the
role of the board, the role of the executive and NED and corporate governance,
and a working knowledge of the board’s financial and legal responsibilities.

Give yourself the edge

Again, HR managers are well placed to tap into the newer areas – such as
corporate social responsibility (CSR) – that are creeping onto boardroom
agendas. Awareness of current standards of good practice for the board (based
on the handbook Standards for the Board, written by Henley faculty members and
the IoD) will stand a candidate in good stead.

Finally, immerse yourself in the literature surrounding this subject. Take
part in board simulations, if possible and attend training programmes in areas
in which you feel less confident; and consider a mentor – they can help devise
a personal development plan targeted to your specific needs.

Professor Victor Dulewicz is head of the HR management and organisational
behaviour faculty at Henley Management College

Further information

– DTI Higgs Report,

– Centre for Board Effectiveness, Henley Management College,,01491 571 454

– Institute of Directors,,
020 7766 8866

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