I had the pleasure of speaking at a Women Get on Board event in June on the topic of networking. This got me thinking about how and why I network as a corporate director, and wondering if networking is actually a director’s duty.
As an introduction to the panel, I gave the audience the advice that you not only have to dress for success for your next job now, but you have to start building the network for your next board position today. If you agree with that statement, the next logical step is to think about those directors currently sitting on large private or public company boards that are at the top of their game. Maybe they do not need to network as much since they are not actively seeking a board position or they know their reputation will be enough to attract interesting offers. Perhaps they mostly network with people like themselves. Those assumptions are wrong and I hope no director makes them. It is the duty of all directors to actively network with different types of people to meet oversight responsibilities. This is why:
- You need to understand and build competencies on the “next big thing” whether that is upcoming topics and trends that will be of interest to your current board. For example, this could be innovative technologies, upcoming compliance rules, a possible shortage of key employees, etc. The strategic plan of your company will continuously change because of internal and external pressures and you will need to be ready to understand and discuss these new challenges. Networking with people that are aware of these trends is one of the ways to stay on top of things. I regularly attend technology focused entrepreneurial contests, such as Founder Fuel, and I participate in the Deloitte Risk Series for that very reason.
- Since diversity on the board and the C-suite is one of the factors leading to financial success for corporations, you have to build a roaster of diverse board members and C-suite candidates to support your company needs. There are plenty of opportunities to meet these aspiring individuals since they want to network with you, the sitting corporate directors who have the potential refer them when an opportunity arises. The Women of Influence luncheons, Canadian Board Diversity Council and Institute of Corporate Directors events are all places you can meet interesting, multi-talented people and start building your referral list.
- In support of your board position, be sure to foster your own independent thinking. It is critical that you continuously see your company from an external perspective. It is easy to become complacent when your company is succeeding and flourishing financially. Maintaining that external perspective can help you avoid People Risk. Networking with people outside of your usual business circles, where you meet potential customers, competitors, and suppliers to your company will help you keep that fresh perspective. Industry events, trade shows, and similar venues are good places to develop your networking skills until they are second nature to you.
Networking is a corporate duty and it should be performed rigorously. On top of attending events, you have to seek out people you do not know. This can be a challenge since as an experienced corporate directors, you have an existing circle of relationships that flock to you and can build a wall around you, making you unreachable to new people. Or perhaps you are at the honor table with people from your usual circles. At those times, I try to set an example for other directors and say, “We’re here to network so let’s mingle and make new acquaintances.” I leave the circle of those I already know. It takes only a few seconds before someone comes up to me to introduce themselves. This allows me to meet fascinating new people. The networking duty becomes a privileged and enjoyable learning experience.
Have you met someone new recently at a networking event? If not, give this a try. Your board won’t regret it!
To comment, please go to LinkedIn - published July 15, 2015