Am I wasting my time as a non-executive director?

Tell the chief executive that you won't feel you are earning your fee until your abilities are used to help improve the business, says Jeremy Bullmore.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 01 Mar 2016

Q: I've just landed my first board position, as a NED with a mid-sized regional food business, and I am amazed by all the time devoted to compliance, regulation and the associated bureaucracy and paperwork. The amount of energy expended on keeping the boxes neatly ticked when we could be trying to improve the business is completely disproportionate. Does everything have to be done so completely by the book?

Jeremy says: Yes, it does. But by the sound of it, someone in this company is being a bit overzealous; which is another way of saying that he or she enjoys the sense of self-importance that making a meal of compliance confers. I doubt if it's your chief executive; it's more likely to be the company secretary. In a medium-sized business, there's probably not enough such work to occupy anyone full time, so in a classic example of Parkinson's Law, the work is expanded to fill the time available and you're being dragged into it.

I very much doubt if you were asked to join this board in order to tick boxes - or worse, to tick the boxes that confirm that you've approved the ones that have already been ticked by other people.

Have a word with the chief executive; not just an informal chat but a proper half-hour. Go over the roles that were discussed and agreed before you joined. Make it politely clear that you won't feel you're earning your modest non-executive fee until your experience and abilities are put to use helping improve the performance of the company. Then make some positive, actionable suggestions. You probably won't need to bang on about the bureaucracy at all.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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