Is Governance Training a Must Have for Directors?

By Paul Smith, Co-founder & CEO //

One of the most common beliefs among people wishing to work their way into the boardroom is that they need some sort of governance training qualification. And while I don’t want to denigrate governance training courses or those who have been through that process, I can tell you that the notion they are a necessary prerequisite to landing a board role is, quite frankly, untrue. But before we talk about why governance training isn’t strictly necessary for would-be directors, let’s quickly bust a few myths around this belief.

Many people looking to land a director role simply believe that without some sort of formal qualification they’ll be overlooked by hiring boards. However, the reality is that boards value experience and variety in their directors over governance training. Out of our program mentors (all of whom are on boards), fewer than half have governance training; likewise, of the people who go through our board programs and land a board role, fewer than 20% have any formal governance training.

Another misconception around the so-called need for governance training is that without it you won’t have the financial and legal know-how to be an effective director. In my experience, the need for this knowledge in the boardroom is vitally important, especially as it relates to your duties, but what you do initially need to know you can easily learn without going through a course; or you can ask of someone who has those specific skill-sets. As a new director it’s highly unlikely you are being hired for your governance experience. Deeper skills can and will be learnt over time.

What’s more important than fiscal knowledge and anything you can glean from governance training is your experience and how you work with others; your ability to question, challenge and hold others to account; in short, the unique qualities that you can bring to a team.

Perhaps the reason that so many people go through governance training is because they believe it will allow them to easily find board work after they receive their qualification; however, these types of training courses fail to offer advice and tips on how to follow through and land a director role. And they don’t tell you how you can excel once you become a director. The reasons we’ve set up our programs the way we have is because we believe it’s important to show people the practical steps they need to follow in order to land a great board role, and the skills they’ll need in order to succeed once they have it.

We encourage our alumni to include governance training into their board career plan but, importantly, we also encourage our alumni to get trained or educated in a wide range of topics in order to be better governors. For example, digital marketing, crisis management, cyber-security, community engagement, product development and so on. As non-executive directors you will be presented with ideas and strategies in these areas and you need to ensure you are knowledgeable enough to assess the risks and opportunities for the company and its stakeholders.

Again, none of this is to say that governance training courses offer no value. They do. It’s just they’ll do little to help you find a director position in the first place. We believe the teachings they offer are great for people who are already in a board, because they become more practical and less theoretical. But before you’ve even set foot into the director space, governance training can be a little abstract.

My advice is to understand exactly what governance training courses can do to help you specifically, and whether you absolutely need one to follow the path you have your heart set on. If you spend some time putting the research in and you deem it to be a necessary step for you, then by all means do it. But if you sign up to a governance training course – even a credible and reputable one – without knowing all the facts, then you may be about to spend a large amount of money on something that doesn’t offer much in return.