Last Thursday I had the pleasure of being on a panel about demystifying boards presented by Zynga, a company whose HR and communication teams have taken the lead to educate and inspire their employees about board service. Many Zynga employees are young and embracing the early stages of their careers, and the company’s commitment to nurturing their interest in and understanding of boards and what they can aspire to benefits both the company and the employees in the short and long term.
Thursday’s event covered “Everything You Need to Know About Why, How & When to Join a Board.” The atmosphere was vibrant and informal, and I was glad to be among expert fellow panelists Ellen Siminoff (representing Zynga’s Board of Directors), Amanda Packel (of Stanford Law School / Rock Center for Corporate Governance) and Kelly Bathgate (from Tipping Point Community). Erin Baudo Felter, Director of Employee & Community Impact for Zynga, effectively moderated our panel.
We took turns sharing our knowledge and experience of boards, covering what boards do, what they are responsible for and why they are important to an organization. We discussed the different types of boards, what makes a good board member, what to consider before joining a board and how to set yourself up to be a strong candidate for a board of directors.
I personally emphasized that to succeed in your career you don’t have to be on a board, but that there are skills and experience that will benefit you if you do seek board membership. I also pointed out that board service is a great opportunity to express some of your talents and make a positive impact. I shared that board commitments require a strategic understanding of business, given that a board is “the highest authority of an organization,” bound by a duty to ensure that the organization is successful– that it creates shareholder value and that it best serves the entity’s stakeholders.
Many of the attendees wondered how boards can understand the business without being involved in the day-to-day and make the right decisions. To this, I made a remark that as one builds her/his career, it is important to have a great ability to think strategically, understanding the big picture across functional areas and learning not to be blind-sided as a manager and as a leader.
I was glad to participate in this panel, as I am an advocate for diversity of skills, talents and experience within our boards, inclusive of gender, age and ethnicity. I also advocate for younger people to understand the role of a board, how it works and how they can be part of it in the course of their career.
With the strategic cycles of businesses shrinking, and the numerous complexities of operating in a digital world, the demand for strong board composition that is in alignment with the strategic trajectory of an organization is high. The days of homogeneous board composition are passé. I value being a catalyst for people to dream of possibilities and to have an open mind about the many ways that their careers can evolve while better understanding how leadership works for an organization. (Do you realize that most employees don’t really understand the role of a board and its relationship with the CEO? How can they then ascertain how to build a career path to lead them to being on a board?)
After the panel, I took the time to speak with some employees, to gain their insights, and I was glad to confirm that we had pinged their interest and curiosity. When I was in the early stages of my career path, there were few people (if any) who encouraged me to pursue board membership or explained how it might expand my horizons. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to fill that role for this group, to some extent. Through my work, I care to inspire across generations, and for the past decade I have committed time and developed programs targeted at growing young people’s leadership potential, sense of purpose and fulfillment across all sectors of their lives.
Thank you Zynga, for organizing the event and for pursuing a company culture that considers the big picture for our younger generations!