A few years ago, it would have been folly to suggest board of directors membership to a working learning executive. Most boards were (and still are) filled with current or former chief executives or chief financial officers. But three things are changing and making learning executives more attractive as board candidates:
1. The “C” in “CLO” — the increased prevalence chief learning officers, combined with the fact that they report to the head table, changes your status and perceived peer group.
2. Sarbanes-Oxley and other forces of compliance make CLOs’ perspective ideal for boards’ desires to stay out of trouble (and even jail).
3. Retention and development strategies for great CLOs often are difficult for organizations to find. By allowing a CLO to sit on an external board, your employer can expand your skill base and provide a possible set of “golden handcuffs” to retain you.
Board membership for a CLO can be transformational — you will get to look at business with a very different perspective. As a board member, I found myself in shock when we were briefed about a proposed learning management system (LMS) purchase. I totally identified with my fellow board members’ skepticism about the impact the LMS deployment would have on our operations and bottom line. In fact, we sent back the proposal for significant reworking.
Board membership can be the equivalent of a “mini-MBA” for some CLOs. You will find yourself immersed in financial details and wrapping your arms around strategy decisions with a new perspective.
As a passionate learner, board membership will give you a unique opportunity to drill deeply into organizational aspects, ask questions and learn a great deal from your new colleagues.
I sit on one board with several CEOs from the energy industry. It has been an incredible learning process to more deeply understand the financial, talent and business issues involved in running a gas or pipeline company. I find myself in a continuous learn/teach situation — I’m briefing these CEOs on talent and learning topics as they bring me up to speed on capital markets, world energy policies and homeland security requirements.
Board membership has its risks. In this post-Enron era, boards’ actions (or inactions) can land members in hot water with serious legal complications. Be sure to do your own due diligence about the ethical base of the company and the extent of its insurance coverage for board members.
Time commitments for some boards are growing, as well, and you need to make sure your bosses will support your membership. I try to attend most subcommittees (and even some full board meetings) by video or audio conference calls.
Here are a few suggestions for how to be invited to join an external board:
Increasing CLO board membership would raise the status and visibility of our field, add needed financial/business perspectives to our roles and provide a broader advocacy of learning and human capital issues.
Elliott Masie is the CEO of The MASIE Center and the host of LMS 2007. He can be reached at email@example.com.