“I have worked well with a number of boards over many years and have enjoyed the work, but I’ve become a target when boards need to fill vacancies. What should be the considerations for directors and chairs regarding how many positions they commit to?” 

    Organisations in Australia need capable, committed directors. It can be easy to look at other directors and think they may have taken on too many roles. However, without knowing their circumstances, it’s impossible to judge. Key considerations can be grouped into personal and organisational.

    Personal considerations

    1. Time commitment

    How much free time do you have available to carry out the responsibilities appropriately? A full-time job will obviously reduce one’s capacity to take on too many roles. If you have transitioned from executive roles to boards and are running a consultancy business, a board role may prevent you from taking on paid work in this sector.

    2. Reasons for being approached

    For some years, I chaired a member-owned bank. This often meant people assumed I was a qualified accountant, so would approach me because of that. My background is organisational development. 

    3. Reasons for taking a board role

    Don’t do it just to add to your resume. This is likely to influence the dedication you apply to the role.

    4. Sector interest

    Learning about a new sector can be very time- consuming. The time required to get up to speed in the first year of a role can be significantly greater than in subsequent years. Risk of burnout. Over-committing yourself to multiple boards can lead to burnout and decrease your effectiveness in all your roles. Factor in personal considerations — exercise, family, social commitments and holidays. 

    Organisational/sector considerations

    1. Time commitment for a responsible director

    This could include board/subcommittee meetings, events attendance, meeting key stakeholders, considering papers, site visits and general reading and learning associated with the sector.

    2. Employee capability

    Smaller organisations, while they may appear simple, can be more difficult to govern because of the level of capability of the team. There may also be an expectation for directors to do some of the work that in other organisations would be done by employees.

    3. When something goes wrong

    Consider how much time is likely to be needed if something goes wrong. Will you have the capacity to act appropriately if this happens on several boards at once? In 2020, I was on six boards and the load was fine until COVID-19 hit. Some roles were paid, some were not. In order to carry out my responsibilities to the boards, my consultancy business had to be put on hold.

    4. Board meeting times

    It can be difficult if you end up with four board meetings in the last week of the month. If you’re on boards that only meet every two months, but you have board meetings every second week, will you ever be able to take a holiday? Different time zones across geographies can also be a challenge.

    5. Pros and cons

    Your impact as a director may be reduced if you’re spread across too many organisations, which may prevent you from focusing enough energy on driving positive change in any single organisation.

    The disadvantage of taking on a number of boards in different sectors is you need to be constantly learning about the sectors. It may be possible to have more than one board in a similar sector, but most boards in the same sector will be in competition.

    Benefits of multiple boards include learning different things in different areas and being able to take learnings from one to another, without breaching any confidentiality. 

    Alexandrea Cannon OAM FAICD is chair of SA Living Artists Festival and the UniSA MBA advisory board, a non-executive director of COTA SA, managing director of BizBuild and an AICD facilitator. 

    This article first appeared under the headline 'The Fix’ in the April 2024 issue of Company Director magazine.  

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