Recently I was speaking at a forum with a room full of women aspiring to join boards as independent directors. The forum objective was to discuss the nuances around being an independent director and what it takes to be one. I was observing worried aspirants asking multiple questions on the functioning of the board, the effectiveness of independent directors, balancing professional expertise with community expertise and so on. The discussions also moved towards how there are limited opportunities and the companies are relatively less open to new names, which in turn limits the aspiring directors’ ability to join the boards.
Observing their apprehensions, I asked the participants a simple question. “If invited, would you like to join the board of prominent companies like TCS, Infosys, HDFC Bank, Indiabulls?” Then, I repeated the same question for less-known companies too. Responses had three important highlights:
- Many hands went up when names like TCS came up. Simply citing brand reputation as the reason.
- Very few hands went up when names like Infosys came up. The recent controversy was cited as the main reason!
- Fewer hands were raised when I called upon less known or unknown brand names. Not knowing about the company and hence assuming it is not so trustworthy was the prime reason.
This clearly points to two important takeaways for companies –
- It is important for companies to invest in building brand recall. People need to know you to trust you.
- No matter how famous you are, your reputation matters. In my mind, Infosys is one of the most respected companies worldwide. It has an admirable track record but momentary shocks and short-term crises create dents in the reputation.
Circling this observation back to the participants, I asked them, “Like for these companies you are being choosy and pointing out reasons why or why not will you join their board, don’t you think these companies have criteria for independent directors too?” “Why will any company want to have you on their board, have you thought of this?” That set the audience thinking and a reality check set in.
While the context here was that of independent directors, but this holds true for everything we do. Be it the job roles we apply for, promotions we aspire for, or enterprise we intend to build, every equation in two-way. Like we want to associate with nothing but the best, others have exactly the same expectations.
I am often asked, how does one build such a reputation. The formula is simple.
Work on your CVV code – Calling, Visibility, and Validation.
Calling – Know what’s your calling, define your niche and while doing so answer three questions – What expertise do you bring to the table, Why do you believe so and, who will this be relevant for. Example – If you identify your calling in making a social impact and define your niche as a CSR expert, then you have to have clarity on the why – Do you have the understanding, experience, and authority of the subject that your target audience will look for. Additionally, CSR is a vast space and may not be relevant to all companies. Hence defining your target audience also becomes critical. Once you have clarity about these questions, inevitably your span of focus will become limited and efforts will be more effective.
Visibility – If you want to do something meaningful, which determines how others perceive you, then you cannot leave your efforts to chance. Those efforts have to be visible to the right audience. By this, I do not mean you become a desperate salesperson of your achievements. Instead, focus on being genuine and showcasing your capabilities or achievements in the right forums.
Validation – Even though you manage to build your visibility around your niche, yet it is important to be mindful of maintaining it. Regular checks and validations are essential to ensure that your visibility is not like a flash in the pan but it is well established positioning sustainable over the long-run.
This three-step formula may seem simple but it is quite deep and if implemented well, can make your reputation last forever. Like the CVV code on your credit card authenticates your transactions, your CVV code can help establish an authentic you.