Establishing your own personal board
I have been reflecting recently on the article I wrote on Developing Your Own Personal Strategic Plan in relation to having a framework for your career, and it occurred to me, I had missed a crucial element.
It should go without saying that part of having a career plan for yourself is the need to regularly monitor, review and track your progress against the objectives. And whilst you may do an annual review and reflect upon your own performance, there’s nothing more valuable than obtaining constructive feedback from others. Just as many organisations have a board of directors overseeing the performance of a strategic plan, it is invaluable to have a personal “board” to at least loosely hold you to account for your plan and give you pointed feedback when needed.
I was inspired by this concept of a personal board when I attended the Women in Leadership Summit this year, and heard Suzy Nicoletti (Managing Director of Twitter Australia) speak about the importance of not just having a mentor to guide your career success, but having a “board”. Suzy talked about having a diverse group of individuals that she turns to for objective advice, and that this insight from people of diverse backgrounds is what has proven so valuable to her development – in particular when she was trying to make the shift from sales to management.
It was during this presentation Suzy gave that I had a moment of clarity that connected a number of previous dots. I have mentioned in some of my posts the importance of sharing experiences with others and the significant role several senior women have played in my career progression. Some have been more formal mentors whilst others have simply offered me valuable guidance and feedback when I have needed it. This idea of a personal board is essentially an extension of what I have in many senses had the fortune of experiencing through these women. And diversity is key, just as is the case for corporate boards.
There are still challenges in shifting away from the traditional “male, pale and stale” boards in corporate land – a story for another day – however we all know countless studies have shown that diversity on boards drives good decision-making and ultimately positive outcomes. The same notion can be applied to obtaining guidance, advice and feedback on your personal strategic career plan – build a diverse personal board that can help you make good decisions and achieve better outcomes for yourself. Suzy mentioned when reflecting on why she didn’t get the promotion she was working towards, she realised after speaking to someone completely outside of her circles that she had created a world for herself where she couldn’t see the whole picture. Because people around her thought too similarly to her and therefore they too were surprised and couldn’t see why she didn’t receive the promotion. These people she used to seek out and run ideas past were largely what she describes as internal individuals – mostly women, mostly people within her organisation and mostly others within her industry.
With that in mind, when building your personal board, it should contain a good mix of people that you interact with personally as well as professionally to ensure a genuine diversity of perspective. If I think about who currently sits on my board, it most certainly would include my husband for obvious reasons. Then I think about the people within my workplace that I openly talk to about my career objectives, and immediately two colleagues of varying levels of seniority come to mind. Both colleagues know me reasonably well on a personal level and are also familiar with the environment I am paving a career path in. External to my organisation but within the financial services industry I work in, I also have a mentor that I regularly see and bounce ideas off. And then within the legal industry there is another mentor that I see much less frequently but can always pick up the phone to ask a question of if I have a burning issue on my mind. In thinking about these people on my current board, there is diversity of gender as well as skills and experience. However I think on hearing Suzy’s thoughts, I could certainly push further out of my existing professional networks into other business circles to help bring more alternative – and male – voices to my board table.
Your board isn’t just there to give you advice and guidance either. With each individual you run your plans past, also comes another person you have made yourself accountable to. In my view, there is nothing more embarrassing than telling someone you respect enough to ask for career advice, about your plans, and then having no actions to show for it. Similar to management reporting to their organisation’s board, you want to be reporting clear outcomes and achievement of objectives.
No doubt we all already speak to people in our lives about work. However once you have mapped out a clear career plan, the development of a personal board is an important step to furthering the successful implementation of your plan. Take the time to think about who those people are that you speak to about your professional goals. And think about whether your board provides you with enough objective insights, or whether you should consider expanding that board to bring in a greater diversity of skills, experience, backgrounds, genders, ethnicities and industries. And finally, just like with all boards, review the tenure of your board members to ensure as you develop in your career their insights remain relevant and objective.