Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fishing for Female Directors?


This is in reply to "Name Withheld," the letter to Susan Pinker (Psychologist: Problem Solving column, Globe and Mail, Toronto, CANADA) July 1, 2009.

If Name Withheld really IS head of the nominating committee for a corporate board, you probably already tried both of Ms. Pinker’s recommendations for finding women candidates with experience in your industry and competent to serve as a corporate director.

I would wager a copy of my book, Outstanding In Their Field: How Women Corporate Directors Succeed, that Name Withheld probably already tapped those "public and non-profit sectors" which have a lot of women, but which represent small percentages of the capabilities and the talent needed to serve on today’s public company boards (8.5% and 5.3% of the experience cited by women who actually do serve on California Fortune 1000 boards, respectively, according to my research).

Since Name’s company is large enough to have a nominating committee and to be concerned about shareholder discussions, you also probably tried to play spin-the-Rolodex of board executive search professionals and discovered that corporate board qualifications require true leadership experience, not simply middle management experience.

Beverly Topping, executive director of the Institute for Corporate Directors (ICD), with 9 chapters throughout Canada, must be pulling her hair out at the idea of a Canadian company writing to a newspaper career search/psychologist for advice on how to find top business leaders capable of guiding a company through its strategic business challenges, past the Scylla and Charybdis of contemporary regulation. The ICD is one of the finest corporate governance programs in North America, providing education, extensive outreach, research, and an extensive database of top (certified) talent for corporate boards.

All of which make me think this be a PHISHING exercise!

But, let’s assume Name is serious about not looking for Ms. Goodbar in the same old places where skirts gather or guys brood. First, the nominating committee needs to assess what are the specific business challenges you need to face with a great board team? What skills, experiences, and capabilities are you currently missing? What are the competency gaps you need to fill for you to address your strategic planning and growth objectives? Where are there women working to solve those kinds of practical, pragmatic business problems?

Look for women who have skills in your business needs and industry. Look to mixed gender professional associations (the bar association, the technology association, the accounting associations and boards) where women are collaborating to address these business challenges with male team members.

Look for women who have added value to their own professional skills through investment in their education, experience and capabilities beyond university levels.
Look for women who have graduate degrees and executive educations in subject fields relevant to your demands. Look for evidence that they have poured their own time and money into developing their skills.

Look for women who have built real business entities, maybe a P&L center within a corporation or maybe an angel, venture, or investment fund. Have they put any of their own money at risk, such that they would know what your business is experiencing by putting your money at risk? Look for women who have built a profitable entrepreneurial business, themselves: growing the business by team-building and generating returns on investment just like you.

Look for women who know how to build collaborative business teams, pay employees for their productivity and for their ability to solve business problems creatively. Look for women at the very top of their professional careers.

The challenge is to find women who are in business corporations and who work daily with the reality that business may not be perfect, but it is the source of salaries, taxes, healthcare, retirement, and investment in the future. The challenge is to find women who are able, ready, and willing to lead through governance in today’s tougher, more regulated public company setting.

If Name wants "just anyone in a skirt," there are plenty of places to find lots and lots of women. But, if Name is serious, then your board will not be satisfied until it finds women who are "outstanding in their field," which is, truly and after all, the only way women corporate directors succeed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Social Networking

Business clients are asking me whether they should sign up for LinkedIn, MySpace, or FaceBook social networking tools. And what about Twitter, they all ask? Are these really jokes from Martians or do social networking tools have real value? What are they, why would someone use them, and who actually benefits?

Some adults sign onto these tools because they want to be seen as "in the know" and as a cool person who hangs around cool people. Others sign on because they’ve read about the "benefits" of social networks.

Benefits are what social network marketing professionals advice and recommendations on the subject of "best practices" regarding the use of these tools. Here are some of their insights.

1. These are "rainmaking tools:" if seeded properly, business comments placed online in one of these locations will generate cascades of customer links and tweets as if you were in an Information Monsoon!

2. They enable you "to pinpoint people" among those you DO know who belong in the networks of people you DON’T belong in.

3. They enable you to hone in on contacts with "six degrees of separation" from high rollers: the people you really want to contact.

LMF (LinkedIn, MySpace, and FaceBook) actually are web-based tools for people who cannot afford (or choose not to pay for) a web site (including domain, hosting, design and development or maintenance). They are for people who do not know how (or choose not) to blog, even on a free blogger site. They would rather present themselves using a tool that is generally reminiscent of their high school yearbook, pictures and all, buddy lists and all.

To productively mine this treasure trove, social network marketing mavens advise you to "put a lot of information on your profile." In other worlds, upload your entire life story and resume. Don’t bother to structure, edit, or focus your information to specific interests or targets because EVERYTHING in your life should be interesting to EVERYBODY. Just do a core-dump to cast the widest possible net to any and all random contacts. Specific clients with specific interest can do all the work necessary to plow through your information. Or not.

Choose "action-oriented" and "searchable" worlds to include in your profile. Any mention of sex, JLO, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, or Beyoncé should garner you the attention you require. If not, the usual addition of phrases containing the word Viagra and the causative anatomical reference should suffice.

Add new projects (if you have any time to actually DO any work).
Customize your profile with a picture of yourself.
Spread your name copiously throughout the page(s).
Update frequently: This is where Twitter training comes in handy: allowing you to add random thoughts of 140 characters infinitely, although meaninglessly. Occasionally, mindlessly.

To spend your last remaining available hours maintaining your LMF site:

-- Network like crazy! Carefully select contacts based on two motivating factors:

(1) Initiate contacts only to prospects with a high probability of connecting you to THEIR Rolodex of high value clients.

(2) Accept into your network only high value contacts who have a high probability of connecting YOU to other high rollers.

Clearly, networks in LMF are "high parasitic" rather than nutritional inter-communication networks. Think about it: if really connected people wanted you to know you, wouldn’t you think they’d already know you? Why would really connected people be motivated to share their hard-earned connections with people they didn’t know, trust, and value?

-- Group! Join clusters of people who follow a subject area. Form groups or join groups based on the following criteria:

(1) Join groups to show that you have commitment and dedication to a niche, topic or expertise.

(2) Start up new groups to demonstrate you credibility in a niche, topic or expertise.

Hopefully, you actually have some experience or intelligence to justify your group membership.

-- Share! Be available to anyone. Give away your hard-earned, valuable expertise. Donate answers to every question posed by anyone (in your exclusive group or network) in your field of expertise.

By hunting down cliques (oops, I mean groups and networks), and giving away your knowledge and expertise for free, you will fuel your competition, devalue the work you actually have invested time and money acquiring, and enable every Lookie-Loo and Joiner to consume copious quantities of the last remaining hours of your life.

But, the social network marketing denizens warn you, be sure to preserve and protect your privacy and valuable information! Adjust your profile settings to exclude crazies and strangers. Although, realistically, once you’ve put all your private data out there on the ‘Net, you’ve pretty much lost all control of your identity.

They also tell you to "play nice!" If you’re not a lawyer or an accountant, don’t pretend to give expert advice in those areas. Perhaps they should also mention that if you’re only a marketing major, be sure you don’t offer technical advice in how to manage information technology and web resources.

Somehow, we’ve lost sight of some essential business concepts. "Customer creation" is the core of business transactions. A business begins by identifying a product or service or expertise which it believes it can deliver and which will provide value to the marketplace. Someone else, the customer, is the one with a need sufficiently strong and developed such that the latter will reach into her pocket for money and compensate the former for value received.

When the customer has a need that is sufficiently strong and developed, she goes looking. She will ask trusted associates to make specific recommendations from which she can choose whom to contact to negotiate further. She does not spend a lifetime gathering random possible lists of all possible products or services -– in advance –- on the off chance that someday, sometime, somewhere she might possibly need that expertise. There are yellow pages, Google, and Craig’s or Amy’s lists that handle specific queries in their appropriate time and place.

Why would a customer ever need to "belong" to a group, network, or clique as a prerequisite for making an intelligent buyer product or service choice? It’s time to pop this over-hyped marketing bubble. The sooner, the better because business has some real problems it needs to solve. And you’ve got real work you need to do.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Neuro-Science in Financial Advice

The latest issue of my financial advisor’s magazine had an article telling me to NOT listen to the messages from my inner reflexive brain, that limbic system portion which manipulates our instinctive, impulsive or reactive behaviors. It's "the bad brain" that animalistic inner brain, driven as it is by hormones, that rushes (mindlessly) toward rewards, over-reacts to risks, and is hyper-aware of change. That limbic system persuaded all my friends to dive into interest-only mortgages on MacMansions priced beyond their wildest dreams. Investments based on the inner guy’s messages will produce emotional investment -– bound to fail.

The neuro-scientific financial advisor suggested I rely instead upon the messages from the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that regulates conscious choice, thoughtful and methodical behaviors. The authority advised I use the rational outer brain which is driven by logic and enlightened by education and informed experiences. Investment decision-making based on the outer guy’s messages will improve the odds of profitable returns.

But, then the rest of the magazine’s articles are designed to excite that inner-idiot! One article says, "Be on the look out for companies tied to Obama’s short term programs." The next one advises: "Invest with an acute awareness of the changing signs of inflation." The third suggests, "Restructure your retirement portfolio, NOW!" I can just feel my limbic system surge with "fight or flight" impulses.

It used to be that consumer goods marketing people were the only "hidden persuaders" of whom we needed to be wary. Now, neuro-scientists are going after Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation grants to delve deeply into our psyches in search of the Pavlovian triggers and buttons they can push to generate our lap-a-dog reactions. Greed, fear, and the promise of adrenalin-exciting payoffs are being used by financial wizards to incent us once again to bounce from annuities to bonds, back to currencies or EFTs, into long term Treasuries or short-term TIPS. It’s all packaged in 5 easy steps to financial security. Just read one more article, and call us at 1-800-Trust-Us.