Staying Connected to Your Companies

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In the past few weeks, I have spent time with individual directors and entire boards in a particularly wide range of companies. The companies they serve represent the entire spectrum of publicly traded entities, from high-tech entities with $100 million market caps to multi-billion dollar multi-national spectaculars.

Maybe because we’ve been lucky or maybe because the corporate directors who choose to interact with NACD are among the more conscientious of the category, our impression is that, for the most part, the people in these roles are diligent in their efforts to serve the stakeholders they represent.

While most corporate directors seem to be actively engaged with the basics of the company’s performance and how shareowners and the public view the company– reading press releases, checking out earnings reports and perusing company web sites – there may still be a disconnect in understanding what is going on at a ground level.

Here are a few starting points corporate directors can use to gain a deeper understanding:

  1. Set up a Google Alert for news about the company and read what’s being written.
  2. Troll the job websites to see what people are saying about what it’s like to work there. LinkedIn, particularly, is revealing of corporate culture and diversity. Search for your company (and check out NACD’s LinkedIn group!).
  3. Read relevant consumer and industry blogs, and/or go on Facebook.com to see how the company shows up in the eyes of others.
  4. Regularly have an inexpensive lunch or have coffee or meet in other informal settings with company employees other than the CEO and the executive team.
  5. Listen in on earnings/analyst calls.
  6. Sit quietly at employee “town meetings.”
  7. Sit through new-employee orientations.
  8. Purchase company products or interact with the company in the exact same way as the general public does, with no special treatment (or even awareness) on the part of company employees.

How else do you keep your finger on the pulse? Share your practices and ideas below.

7 Comments

  • Rob Galford says:

    The thoughtful comments from Andrea Harris, Professor Anita McGahan and Alex Todd are clear indicators that there is much more that can be done by directors in keeping their fingers on the pulse of the organizations they serve. The Twitter pulse gives regular, anecdotal feedback, and Anita’s comment about the value of corporate alumni organizations opens up an entire set of resources as well.

    It is also interesting to read of Alex Todd’s survey findings thus far on the variety of information sources First, with regard to the apparent belief by for-profit directors that most are active users of “other” information sources, one might wonder how much of that is actual, and how much of that is aspirational. Alex’s hypothesis (that most may not be aware of the scope of relevant information resources available to them and hence are overestimating the variety of information sources they are using) has the ring of veracity to it.

    Thanks

  • Robert,

    Interim results of a survey (http://www.SurveyMonkey.com/s/DirectorSupport) I am currently running to assess the level of support resources available to board directors possibly support your findings.

    In answering the question “To what extent are your directors empowered with and make use of a VARIETY OF INFORMATION SOURCES that provide added perspective on board matters in order to help them exercise good business judgment and take a valid stand on issues at board meetings?”, there is a distinct difference between for-profit and not-for-profit boards, with directors of the the former category believing that all or most directors used a variety of sources moderately or extensively. However, combined with your findings, it is possible that directors are not aware of the scope of relevant information resources available to them and hence are overestimating the variety of information sources they are using.

  • Anita McGahan says:

    Another idea is to create a database of company “alumni,” i.e., former employees who move on to do new things. Many may take ideas developed in your organization and implement them in new ventures or with new employers. If your best people quit and then go on to do great things, you’ve received a signal that you may be stifling innovation in your organization.

    Thanks so much, Rob, for a great blog post!

  • I’d also add Twitter to the list. If you want to see what people are saying about a company right this minute you can do a search on Twitter for that company’s name. It’s hit-or-miss, of course, but if there’s breaking news that concerns a company and you want instant feedback you’ll often find it there.