I’ve spent the past nine years serving on corporate boards for Brunswick Corporation, Red Robin, and Nordstrom fsb. My time on those boards has taught me many lessons, not least of which is the fact that on most boards, you may be the only marketer in the room. I believe that this gives us marketers the opportunity to position ourselves as the voice of the customer, the brand and an expert on innovation and topline growth. But before you can be successful on any board, you have to master some board etiquette 101:
#1: Choose the board where you can add the most value. While this is relatively easy for finance people who can lead audit committees it is more challenging for leaders from the marketing function. Look for companies where marketing and customer experience are central. Add to your functional knowledge by developing foundational knowledge and expertise in specific areas like board governance or comp. It is helpful to be perceived as an expert.
#2: Develop a rapport with the CEO that enables you to guide and direct in your area of expertise. Aim for being supportive and constructive. “This is what I’ve seen work in another company that faced a similar challenge” or “I experienced this at one point in my career and here’s what worked for me….”
#3: Strive to be a good colleague. Be mindful of camaraderie of the board. Observe the culture and styles and, when possible, couch comments as supporting or building on others points. It’s ok to be slightly differential – especially at first – but never be disrespectful.
#4: Understand the difference between management and governance. A board’s job is strategy and oversight so board members should remain focused on the long-term strategic health of the company. It’s important to adopt an attitude of reasonableness and remember that different is not wrong. Ask yourself, “How will this company win 5 years out?”
#5: Don’t take up board airtime unless you really have something of value to add. Remember: “We have two earsand one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Be additive, not competitive during meetings and use offline time wisely. Think about approaching the CEO after the meeting with: “I didn’t want to get us off track but I had a thought/question I wanted to run by you.”
#6: Use it as an opportunity to learn. Call fellow board members after meeting and ask for more insight if they made a comment you would like to better understand.
#7: Remember that almost nothing is as it first appears. Hold back on first opinions and look for different perspectives or the other side of the story. Be careful not to bring personal prejudice to the discussion.
#8: Form connections with board colleagues. Get to the dinners and the breakfasts early. Seek to build relationships and share ideas outside the main meetings.
#9: Be willing to take on the jobs and projects that no one else wants. Especially important as a young or new board member.