For the past 18 years, I have been utilizing a powerful tool that I look at as my Virtual Board of Directors. I formalized this process into a semi-organized form of keeping in touch with people whose perspectives I respect. In some ways, this is my rendition of Networking 2.0. (Before you read on, I recommend you first read my thoughts about best practices for Networking.)
So, how does this virtual board of advisors work? To start, we have never had a board meeting, never met in person, and none of the members even know they are part of this esteemed group, yet all have played incredibly important roles in the development of my life and career.
I know, this sounds like the visions of a lunatic, but bear with me.
I have a group eight trusted advisors with whom I communicate individually three or four times per year. This team has a singular, shared objective to be a critical source of information and feedback. I turn to them to act as a sounding board, to provide creative input, to offer common sense, and even to play around with crazy ideas.
To be sure, this is not a hodge-podge assemblage of people. The group is diverse by design and includes men and women of all ages, geographical locations and professions. The youngest is 28 years old; the oldest is 81 years old. Members represent global perspectives from Canada, the United States, Germany and the UK. Professional backgrounds are just as diverse with a human resources professional, a country singer, a senior level recruiter, a chief executive officer, and an entrepreneur. A couple of the members are retired, several work on their own, and others work for companies. This mix helps with the quality and breadth of counsel I receive.
Several key principles make it work:
It must be a two-way relationship. I make sure that each meeting or call fulfills a need for the other person too. That could be as simple as buying lunch, listening, or coaching. I call quarterly even if there is no clear need or objective on my part. It is good to just catch up regularly.
Imagine the individuals as a team around a table. Even though this never happens, I prepare as if it will. What is the objective of the next round of calls and meetings? What do I want to accomplish? I prepare as if I am going to a board meeting. I enter quarterly call reminders on my calendar and spend a few hours preparing for the first call since inevitably, that discussion leads to topics that I may carry into the follow-on meeting with other board members.
Eight is enough. I believe too many advisors can be a problem to manage, just like any board. That said, I also feel fewer than five may reduce the diversity and richness of the input. In reality, I probably catch six of the eight in my quarterly meetings.
Keep track and take notes. I admit it. I started out as an engineer and I like building spreadsheets and tables. I keep a matrix that tracks contact information, last call, input from each member and some personal information. The latter gets the conversation going on the next call. I also color-code the input. Crazy ideas (orange) have led to some of the most valuable paths I have pursued.
You are the membership committee. I carefully considered who I wanted on my board. Diversity was important to me for a number of reasons. I also thought carefully about each relationship. I suppose the board could flex depending on the need or issue, but I have chosen to stay with the same eight people for several years. Importantly, I would like to have someone in their twenties and over the 18 years, that person has changed several times. I believe if you tailor the team to the task, you miss out on a unique viewpoint from someone who may not be knowledgeable about the specific issue – but may have related experience that informs your thinking. I also value people who are “fun’ to talk to – who are interested and interesting.
There is no need to let each person know you see them as part of a team. I suppose this article lets “the cat out of the bag” for my advisors who read this article, but, I don’t think they need to know the structure since it may lead to assumptions about the issue or the team that might be distracting and irrelevant. The bottom line is that I enjoy keeping up with this group of interesting people and I want to make sure our conversations are as genuine as possible.
I would love to learn more about how you network and use feedback from your trusted advisors. Please drop me a line in the comment section. Let’s get our own discussion started.
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