Make Board Engagement Your #1 Big Idea
No one can do it alone. I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work.
Advice from others has shaped my most important milestones – from the early days of my father teaching me to tie my shoes to the graduate professor enlightening me on the finer points of andragogy right down to my current business advisers suggesting I focus on stage two companies. In the instances where I’ve folded my arms and said, “I don’t need anybody,” I have almost always fallen short. The fact is: We need others to succeed.
This is particularly true in business. As the founder and managing director of Certified Impact, LLC, a Chicago-based training and development agency, I serve on a number of advisory and nonprofit boards, offering advice on growth strategy and organizational development. Many people are familiar with the idea of serving on a nonprofit board of directors. You champion the cause, gain experience, network, and feel almost heady when your efforts make a tangible difference.
Another, less thought of, type of board is an advisory board for your own corporation or sitting on one for another company. According to American Express OPEN "State of Women-Owned Businesses,” one in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more is woman-owned. One breakaway strategy to surpassing that financial benchmark is to surround yourself with people who have accomplished what you are looking to achieve. Advisory boards fill confidence and knowledge gaps.
In my experience, I’ve found that many women believe soliciting help from others reflects weakness. The “we-can-do-it-all” mentality is not surprising. We run the business and the household. We plan the IPO and the family party. We’ve been “doing it all” for a long time. Asking for help, though, is a prerequisite for business growth. An advisory board of three to five people (think of them as professional mentors guiding your business with lodestar precision) can be the catalyst for your business to run at breakneck speed. Leave friends and family off the list. Go for colleagues possessing skills you don’t have. Typical honorariums may include equity interest in the company or a meeting stipend ($1,000 per quarterly meeting is not unusual).
Next, understand the objective of your board. Is it broad or narrow? Is social media a major deficit or will your board be architecting your business roadmap over the next five years? What records do you want to break? Where are your business’ greatest weaknesses and how can a board fill them? How will your board contribute to your sustainability and long-term vision?
Keep your board informed. Give them a copy of your sales goals, P&L, customer surveys, employee comments, and any other intelligence two weeks prior to each meeting. Reserve meeting time for strategic discussion, not as a sharing session. Your board’s performance is, in part, based on the information you provide. Clearly communicate your expectations. Embrace negativity and conflict. If you want to grow, forego umbrage for learning.
Now that we’ve looked at creating an advisory board for your business, let’s explore you serving on one for someone else’s corporation. This is a great way to elevate your business stature and plant your flag as a thought leader.
How do you find a seat at the table? Put your name out there via your network and industry trade organizations. Let them know you are willing to serve as a mentor or on a board and that you have demonstrated success in particular areas. Don’t be shy about showing your credentials. Your message to prospective board members and to the CEO of the company you hope to serve: “I’m going to be effective for you, and here’s why.”
Authenticity reigns when working on another’s behalf. Self-serving reasons proffer failure for everyone involved. Be upfront about what you want out of the relationship. The desire to help the other company grow should be first and foremost.
A relevant quote from Bloomberg Business: "You need advisers to bounce ideas off, to provide a reality check, to tell you when you're about to mess up, to confide in when you're alone at the top."
Let’s make this year the year for women to extend beyond our business borders. Board engagement is a path laden with growth opportunities – and one you never have to travel entirely alone.