In previous articles, we established that 65+% of people in the UK are appointed to a board via a personal connection, and those personal connections are not your strong ties. So that leads one to ask “What connections will help me get a board appointment?”. The answer is weak ties. Your board network must include weak ties. They are surprisingly easy to establish and will really make a difference to your board career.
The conceptual framework
According to a well-respected journalist Malcolm Gladwell, it is your Weak Ties that make you powerful. He points to sociologist Mark Granovetter (Stanford University), whose classic study “Getting a Job”. The study surveyed Boston workers and found that 56% got jobs through a personal connection. However, of those connections, he found that most were weak ties. Only 17% of people who got a job through a personal connection saw that contact often. 55% saw them occasionally, and 28% saw them rarely – your ‘weak ties’.
That means 83% of people who gained a job through a connection saw that person rarely or infrequently. They were nearly three times as likely to have found their job through a weak tie than through an advertisement, headhunter or other formal means. So the old saying rings true that “success is largely about who you know, not what you know”, but success comes when you focus on the right ”‘who”.
Extrapolating these findings to my own board appointment studies, this means that around 53% of all board appointments made occur through personal connections seen rarely or infrequently – a weak tie. Thinking back to why strong ties are unlikely to help you get on a board, the power and value of weak ties should revolutionise the way you search for a board appointment.
Who are your weak ties?
Weak ties can be contacts or connectors. Contacts are people you see rarely or infrequently. Connectors are people that you want to know (or know of) because you know that they provide access to people or opportunities.
Unlike your strong ties, weak ties are particularly powerful because they come without any preconceived notions of who you are or what you offer. They also come with no emotional or professional attachment. An offer to help is more likely as they see no risk to your relationship and others by doing so.
How to establish weak ties & build your board network
Many of us are hardwired to hate networking, particularly when we are creating relationships to promote our own careers. However, the very nature of a weak tie makes the networking process easier and less stressful. It does not require thick skin or attending neverending laborious networking events. Weak tie networking often sees brief and fleeting interactions or connections yielding meaningful outcomes.
A chance meeting at a dinner or at soccer training with the kids can lead to a board appointment. Several months ago, a client recounted a story of how he was appointed to a board after going on a sailing trip with the father of his daughter’s friend. daughter’s friend’s father at a school event. They got talking about what each other did. As a result of the initial conversation, an opportunity arose, and he was offered a position on the board. Sometimes it can be just that easy!
- It starts with the right board pitch. You need to be able to define what value you can add at board level. What board roles you are looking for, and what you can offer. You need to be able to articulate it all, in any situation, to anyone, in a compelling fashion in a 30-second pitch.
- Know which organisations are right for you. This is important. If you don’t know which organisations are likely to appoint you, then developing the right connections will be near impossible. So, write out a list of 12 target companies you think you can and want to be appointed to the board of.
- Identify your relevant current and potential weak ties. Once you know your targets, then research who you know and need to know that have a connection with the current board members of your targets. Develop a spreadsheet with their names and contact details.
- Research to find common ground. You need to build a connection, and doing it will make the connection stronger. It starts by picking the right organisation – one you are passionate about. Then research the person you want to connect with – what else do they do, what other boards do they sit on, and who do you know in common – LinkedIn is your friend here. When reaching out to, or reconnecting with, weak ties, online board research will provide you with the material you can use as ice-breakers or develop commonalities.
- Be inquisitive and helpful. Don’t think about the value you can extract from networking with a weak tie, but rather focus on the reciprocal value you can give them. This approach will not only allow you to feel more comfortable about the networking process, but you will come across as a genuine connection looking to develop a genuine relationship. ‘How can I help’ is my mantra… it might work for you as well.
- Use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a networking platform, so use it to identify, connect and nurture weak ties. It is always open, and you don’t have to wait for an event to find networking opportunities. Simply reaching out to the people you want to speak with to introduce yourself and ask if they would like to have a coffee. It is super simple to do.
How can we help?
Developing a list of your current and potential weak ties, plus how to reach out to them, is a critical element of our Board Appointment Training series. The series comprises 8+ hours of hands-on training along with the templates and language to use to create powerful Weak ties. It is 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.