The New Standards for Supervisory Board Members
23 March 2023
The time when only well-known people in the old boys’ network are invited to become supervisory board members or non-executive directors is behind us. Most public and private organizations now have detailed processes to recruit for these roles, including carefully designing the ideal candidate profile to match the challenges ahead. In addition, many organizations in The Netherlands are switching to a dual director-supervisory board model, and the number of supervisory roles in the public domain continues to rise. These changes are part of a broader trend of professionalization that includes new regulations, articles of association, and developing a clear vision for the supervisory board.
Parallel to this, more and more professionals are becoming interested in supervisory board roles. However, executives must pay attention to new requirements for the position to match the newly professionalized approach. In our experience, it is no longer sufficient to have a great career as an executive board director and then move on to several supervisory board roles at the end of your career. Especially because the competition is fierce; not only is the number of roles increasing but also the number of highly trained candidates. Formal preparation is necessary because the importance and scope of the position have greatly increased and you are legally liable for the organization. The “free rider” effect is diminished: you are really responsible.
Through the eyes of an executive search firm
When an executive search organization leads the search, they access an expansive network and identify many highly-qualified candidates. Clients often request substantive board experience and expert-level competencies to come to a complementary composition of the board. Furthermore, the importance of diversity and inclusivity is emphasized in most Board compositions, which impacts the profile of the candidates these organizations are looking for.
Competencies that apply to a supervisory board role only partly overlap with the competencies required for an executive board role. If only because of the difference in the executive versus the non-executive character of both roles, despite bearing heavy responsibilities in both cases. But maybe even more important, being a supervisory board director requires a different way of asking questions, gathering information, and managing team dynamics.
As an executive search firm, we strongly recommend that professionals complete a training course to substantively prepare them for the supervisory board director role. You will learn about the requirements of being a supervisory board member and how the role differs from other board roles. Legal liability is explained, including an analysis of where things can go wrong. You also learn to manage situations correctly, which often means taking a less action-oriented approach.
In addition to preparing you for the day-to-day requirements, completing a course shows you are serious about becoming a supervisory board member: it is not an opportunistic decision because you happen to get a call. It shows that you want to invest time, energy, and money to thoroughly prepare yourself for a new and truly different role. This mindset and approach are deeply appreciated by organizations looking for new supervisory board members.
It is also important to note that we are increasingly appointing people in the middle of their working lives to supervisory boards. We recommend that you don’t wait too long to explore your ambition for a supervisory role and complete the required training. Professional courses unite highly accomplished and ambitious executives, so it also helps you to expand your network.
Which supervisory board course should you choose?
The range of courses is enormous because no single, globally-recognized accreditation exists. Options range from online classes to well-thought-out academic programs. To make that choice easier: ask yourself why you should not follow a program at a highly-respected business school. If you have a good answer to that question, look further into the range of offers. One exception to this: there are some non-university courses aimed at specific industries that can be excellently suited to your career goals. A program accredited by a professional organization or accreditation organization (such as the NVAO in Belgium and the Netherlands) is a good starting point.
Training varies in intensity and the composition of theoretical or practical learning. Some focus on interventions in which the group perspective is central, while others focus on soft skills or governance frameworks. The various associations of supervisory boards (organized by sector) also offer training and introductory courses that are certainly interesting to look at in your exploration. However, it is easy to get overwhelmed with options. Remember your priorities and aim high is our recommendation.
We wish you well in your education and training journey, and if you would like to discuss the options ahead of you, contact one of our consultants by finding your nearest IIC Partners office.
Gerald Knol is a Managing Partner at Holtrop Ravesloot and a Practice Group Leader for Life Sciences & Healthcare at IIC Partners. Gerald’s main field of focus is the social sector, including healthcare, education, government, NGOs and associations. Gerald is furthermore specifically interested in the intersection of public and private matters, particularly where healthcare and education meet entrepreneurship and innovative content.
Hans van de Velde is a Partner at Holtrop Ravesloot. Hans combines an executive search background with experience in international CEO roles. His field of work is primarily executive and board search within logistics & transport, energy, retail, business services and digital transformation. The combination of experience in international management roles and his substantial knowledge in executive search is the foundation of Hans for executive and board search.