Your board network includes your business, professional and personal contact. They are one of the most valuable and transportable assets you have. Your board network is of value to those boards interested in appointing you and valuable to you when searching for a board appointment.
A nourished and up-to-date network can truly work wonders for your board and executive careers. When people start leveraging their valuable connections whilst seeking a board role, they quickly realise that their connections are stale, shallow or not quite right. As such, it is important to get in front of this challenge now because it is much easier to maintain and nourish your board network than to play catch-up when you need help from others.
Commit NOW to getting your board network in order
Start by working on any or all of the following steps to update and nurture the contacts in your board network:
Step 1 – Update your contact list
Who do you know?
Spend some time and begin by thinking about all of your current and past business, professional and personal contacts. The people you used to work with, the alumni of those organisations, old university friends, people you have done business with, those parts of the community and professional organisations you are part of, current or past board and committee members you served with, or even those you know through your personal activities – riding clubs, sporting teammates and of course friends, family, etc.
Collect contact information
Once you compiled your list put them into a spreadsheet or CRM. Next, spend time gathering their contact details. You can do this in many ways, but you can often do this via LinkedIn or even utilising services like rocketreach. Focus on collecting their email or LinkedIn address. Make sure you include a note regarding the context of the relationship. This will make the task of contacting them easier and more successful.
Qualify the contacts in your board network
Once collated, grade your relationship’s ‘quality and depth’ with each contact. A simple “A, B, C” ranking will suffice. An “A” contact is someone you feel is definitely an advocate or champion of yours – someone who, without question, will have positive things to say about you. “C” contacts are individuals whom you do not know very well at all. “B” contacts are those who you know reasonably well, or very well but are not necessarily individuals you would consider advocates or champions.
Step 2 – Connect (or re-connect) with the right approach
Regardless of whether they are an A, B or C, set yourself a goal of having contacted your board network within 30 days. In truth, you should aim to do this far quicker.
Connect, but don’t ask for a job
The purpose of this exercise is to build out your connections. That will be easy to do for some within your board network list. Whilst other connections may be stale, and reconnecting may feel awkward to begin with. There are some easy ways to (re)start a relationship. A simple “I just came across your profile on LinkedIn and realised we weren’t connected” could be an excellent way to begin. Once you have re-established contact with your board network, the next step is to maintain ongoing contact.
This exercise aims to position yourself for potential opportunities that your board network may have access to. It is not to ask for a NED role directly. If the former is the sole driver of your approach, it will seem inauthentic – bordering on sleazy – and unwelcome. To avoid this, you need to make sure your motivation is correct and ensure you take a genuine interest in what they are doing, their challenges and their needs. Put their interests before your own. Consider using a ‘how can I help’ mantra.
Step 3 – Nurture and keep in contact with your board network
Remember that it is still true that at least 50% of all board appointments occur via people you see rarely or infrequently. So, the more regularly your board network contacts hear from you, the better your chances of staying on their radar. In doing so, you are more likely to be one of the people that someone in your board network thinks of when contemplating a referral or recommendation for a vacant board position.
This may require manufacturing reasons to stay in touch. There are countless ways to do so. Great examples of ways to stay in regular contact with your board network include:
- Sending birthday cards or messages
- Making personal introductions
- Referring leads, work or business opportunities
- Inviting them to networking or industry events
- Forwarding exciting articles or studies
- Sharing new online resources, tools, apps or websites
- Congratulating them on their achievements or anniversaries
Step 4 – Use LinkedIn
LinkedIn is the ultimate tool to connect with and stay connected. If you are not using it regularly, you should be. By following individuals and businesses, plus participating in relevant LinkedIn groups, you will connect with your board network more easily. Why? Because you will discover plenty of reasons and motivations to do so.
Step 5 – Do more to reach out to your board network
LinkedIn is a great and appropriate resource, but it is almost too easy to use. As such, receiving another message via LinkedIn can lose its lustre. Sometimes it is worth considering picking up the phone, sending an email or doing something more personal. For example, in the past, I have used Book Depository to send books of common interest to a contact in my board network. It may cost more, but the impact can be enormous, generally leading to a phone call at least.
You will be amazed at what a well-maintained board network of personal and professional connections can lead to. My best advice is: Don’t overthink it, just do it. It all starts with spending some focused time working out who you know. We cover how to develop your board network extensively in the Board Appointment Training Series, included in our Executive Membership package.
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience in putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world.