It seems that since I wrote a blog about the importance of Purple Champions, they’ve become the new must have thing for disability networks (not that I’m claiming any credit!). Since writing the blog I’ve been working with the always amazing Kate Nash and Sarah Simcoe on a new PurpleSpace publication on the topic of Purple Champions and we’ve been organising an event for senior disability champions and D&I professionals to talk about the role of Purple Champions in the workplace and it’s got thinking about how this only part of the picture.
I’m going to go off in a little tangent now but stay with me….
In the last few months of my role within the Reach Disability Network at Barclays I’d been working hard to bring in a new leadership team to drive the network forward. Whilst doing this I started to wonder about whether we should be looking at networks not as just a voluntary scheme but as social enterprises or business within organisations whose purpose was to provide consultancy, awareness and support in order that organisations become more disability confident. It’s this work that’s brought me to write this blog post about networks as businesses and why it’s so important that we arm disability network leaders with key business skills.
Networks as businesses
So you might be thinking – I’m not sure about this, why should networks behave like businesses they’re voluntary groups who just need to get on and do what they need to do. That’s all well and good but the fact remains that networks need a few things to survive and thrive – money, people and a strategy and all too often we see network leaders who don’t have the skillset to deliver these key elements.
By thinking of a network like a business it will also change the mindset of the network leaders in terms of how they manage stakeholders and access funding and resources. Which brings me back to champions (see I told you I’d get back to champions!). By changing how we view stakeholders and thinking of them in the context of a business network leaders will set themselves up for a more successful relationship with their stakeholders and, hopefully, enable the network to thrive.
As I’ve been working on developing a framework and best practice guidance for champions I’ve come to question why most networks have only one champion. I think we need to change this approach to truly enable to the networks as businesses approach. For year’s personal and professional coaches have been talking about the need to develop your own personal board with you as a CEO. The approach suggests surrounding yourself with people you trust but who each provide something different, for example someone who you work with on your personal brand, your career path or your network. Why shouldn’t be adopt this approach for our networks.
A board of champions
Let me explain- by having just one champion, you’re relying on them to be knowledgeable about a wide range of topics and what I’ve discovered is that many champions feel pressured and uncertainty about fulfilling their roles because they’re being asked to know everything, which often means they don’t fully engage or buy into being a champion. What if we had multiple champions, each focused on supporting our networks using the skills and knowledge they bring to the table – rather than assuming they know everything. You could have a champion focused on the brand of the network, another focused on being connections and relationships for the network and others focused on whatever your network needs. This approaches brings the skills and expertise they have to bear rather than hoping that one person can bring everything.