Establishing a seat for non-traditional departments within the boardroom is a journey – and one that is becoming increasingly more complex. Each department is vying for a seat highlighting how the work they do perfectly aligns with the company’s overall goals: be that outstanding ROI, the percentage of cost savings, enabling quality control, increasing sales, conferring a competitive advantage, or something else.
Research around the world has shown that effective, holistic boardrooms enhance corporate performance while a failure to recognize its benefits can undermine competitive competency. Yet, board diversity has largely remained an alien concept in most corporate boardrooms.
As an executive for your company’s packaging department, or as one who aspires to have a seat at the table, how do you get a representation in the boardroom? Packaging is a business function, and it deserves a place at the management table. But the first step in getting your department into that coveted boardroom is to re-educate your engineers and your managers – and that means expanding their operating canvas from the technology of packaging to the business of packaging.
Your engineers and your managers need to understand how supply chains work, how costs accumulate, how customer segmentation occurs, how industry trends influence go-to-market decisions and ultimately how packaging impacts the business’ bottom line. While technical skills are necessary, analytical skills are critical and can add systemically to the success of the enterprise.
The packaging department’s role has changed at companies both large and small. A new set of challenges – mainly the customer – is dictating a new level of leadership-driven initiatives. So packaging leaders need to deliver new types of strategic value and play an integral role in determining what it will take to get the company where they need to be.
Seize any opportunity to hardwire packaging into the core of the business. In order to uncover new ways of adding value, high-performing departments work in close collaboration with other departments and with the company as a whole – becoming involved in planning and playing an active role within management teams.
Engage with strategy – corporate strategy - as it is forming. This is an area where the diverse experiences of executives can add significant value. But, that’s only possible if you’re participating early in the formation of strategy as opposed to reviewing a fully baked document. A collaborative process can shift the board’s attitude from reactive to proactive and infuse your department’s contributions, thus regarding you as an integral resource.
Position the packaging department as a source of innovation and as a resource to accelerate time to market. No one company has all of the answers, so it makes sense to team up with other partners in the supply chain. Managing partnerships throughout the supply chain can maximize leverage within the company as access to customer data puts your department in a dynamic position.
But partnerships don’t necessarily have to be within your supply chain – forming relationships with well-known industry associations or standards committees can be just as lucrative in obtaining the voice of the customer. Associations like PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, offer business intelligence reports, pulling information from member companies within the packaging industry. Additionally, PMMI’s Emerging Leader’s Network is a group of processing and packaging technology professionals dedicated to identifying and convening the next generation of industry leaders. PMMI offers networking events with other industry companies, providing an opportunity to exchange information with other packaging professionals. You now have the voice of the customer.
Now that you have the voice of the customer, you can guide your company’s focus on risk management. When you embed your department within your company’s core operational processes, you become the line of sight into customer risks and vulnerabilities. In this respect, the packaging department can play a pivotal role in performing checks and balances to see what needs to be done and how any actions will impact the company’s overall goals.
Once you’ve embedded your department within your company’s core operational processes, focus on the overall outcomes instead of just describing them in terms of the packaging department. This strategic focus drives home the relevance that your department plays within the grand scheme of the business – something that executive management will not only understand, but support.
And through your efforts, you will interact with a broad range of employees, departments, supply chain partners and even customers – far more than traditional board-level departments do. And while isolated reports of customer or product issues may not have relevance to enterprise strategy, the attentive packaging executive is likely to get wind of mission-critical trends – like changes to customer specifications that could impact a large contract. By taking a strategic part in stopping their escalation or identifying new opportunities for addressing their presence is working toward the greater goal of securing your seat at the corporate boardroom.
Thus, maximizing your network within the company as well as external throughout your supply chain is critical. But gaining exposure to your own board of directors is imperative. Whether it means getting your department involved in a special committee or simply being part of a team presenting a specific venture to the board, any exposure to the boardroom will help differentiate your department from other non-traditional departments.
Many large companies will offer executive education events, which provide opportunities to become more familiar with governance issues shaping today’s boardroom. These events give you, as a representative of your department, the opportunity to meet other well-connected executives that can offer insight into how boardroom seats are selected. Expanding your own network through these types of events can prove to be invaluable for getting your department on the map.
But don’t be afraid to be your own cheerleader because you cannot guarantee your department’s work will be recognized by anyone but your boss. As the executive, do your own PR for your department – make your department visible to people across the company who you may not come into day-to-day contact with. Set up a sub-committee – anything that makes other colleagues aware of what the packaging department contributes to the company.
With packaging playing such a defining role in business as well as in today’s marketplace, the packaging department is more relevant than ever to the grand decisions that companies make. By clearly highlighting the correlation between your department’s functions and the company’s overall goals, packaging can forge stronger partnerships with executives and build up relevance over time.
It really boils down to translating the technology of packaging to the business of packaging – and into insights and advice that directly impacts the well-being of the company.
While the plant floor may always feel like home, for many businesses, the top floor is where the packaging executive is needed the most.
Laura Studwell is the Food, Beverage and Packaging Industry Marketing Manager for Omron, a provider of automation and safety products. She has a strong background in the food and packaging industries working with associations and governing bodies throughout the Pan-Americas to drive standards for food safety and quality. Studwell received her MBA from Northern Illinois University and is an active member of PMMI, serving on the Emerging Leaders Committee. She is a past member of the Packaging Association of Canada as well as the Food Processing Suppliers Association.