Value from Your Advisory Board

How can I get the most value from an Advisory Board?

........By Jeff Haltrecht

Deciding to form an Advisory Board for your private business may prove to be the smartest decision you make.  The ability to leverage the experiences of those who have gone before will help your company avoid unnecessary risk, while focusing employee efforts behind the opportunities that create long-term prosperity.

Here are my thoughts on how you can get the most value from your Board.

1. Identify The Advisory Board’s Mandate

Start by identifying what you want the Board to do for you and the company during this next phase of business (generally 3 to 5 years).

  • Is the Board’s primary mandate to build on existing wealth, or to protect it?
  • Do you want them to help prepare for, and oversee, an ownership transition?
  • Does the business need experienced guidance during a restructuring?

While an Advisory Board will play multiple roles, its mandate must be singular and clear to all involved.

2.  Own The Agenda

It’s your business and your agenda; articulate the goals and drive the topics, while allowing the advisors to engage you in robust dialogue.

Answer the 5 ‘What’ questions:

  •  What is the 3 - 5 year objective for the Board?
  • What is the over-arching theme for current year?
  • What are the 3 to 5 initiatives that must be accomplished this year?
  • What are the planned topics for each meeting?
  • What is the detailed agenda for the first meeting?

3.  Establish a Meeting Schedule of Between 4 – 8 Meetings Per Year

For a private company, the advisory board should meet at minimum 4 times per year.  My personal preference is 6 times as it definitely helps build and maintain momentum.

If the company faces a number of opportunities that carry large investment or are deemed to contain higher levels of risk, it would be wise to meet with even greater frequency.

4.  Assign A Board Chair To Lead

A smart move by the owner would be to assign one of the advisors as chairman of the board.  By shifting the responsibility for conversation flow and board management, the owner is now better able to participate and actively listen.

5.  Prepare And Issue Pre-Reads Seven Days Prior

The curse of any business meeting is someone using valuable time to present content that could have been read in advance.

As the owner, it’s your responsibility to prepare and issue pre-read information a minimum of seven days prior to the Advisory Board meeting.  Likewise, the advisors must not only read, but prepare points-of-view and questions that will foster the dialogue.

6.  Be Bold; Communicate Openly And Honestly; Share Your Opinion

Advisory boards work best when you build a level of trust that allows you, and your advisors, to be bold with the thinking.

Talk openly and honestly amongst each other, while considering all options before making a decision.

7.  Deal With Opportunities Head-On; Don’t Skirt Around The Issues

Some of the most important topics regarding your business’ future can be uncomfortable to talk about.  While this unease is normal, push yourself to deal with the opportunity head-on.  You will find the decision becomes easier from the insight gained.

8.  Ask Probing Questions; Listen To The Board's Experience

An Advisory Board can be likened to ‘renting’ experience.  By surrounding yourself with individuals with complementary strengths and backgrounds, you can tap into a breadth of wisdom.

In advance of each Board meeting, prepare a series of open-ended questions that will get your advisors telling stories.  Now listen to their experience and think about how you can apply the learning to your business.

9.  Let Them Be The Company’s Catalyst For Change

Out of change comes opportunity, which in itself can lead to prosperity.  Having a great idea and a plan to get there is not good enough, however.  It’s too easy as a business owner to get marred in the details or carried off track by a few minor issues.

Your Advisory Board needs to be the catalyst that will help the company breakthrough its next phase.  Let them push you and your team for disciplined action that leads to planed results.

10.  Honor your commitments

There are many reasons to honor your commitments, with the obvious one respecting others.  But it goes deeper than that.  You will find that the more you follow through on topics of discussion; the more your Advisory Board will engage you.

This ‘circle’ of dialogue and follow-through is what propels the company forward.

There is no better time than the present to form an Advisory Board that will help provide leadership and oversight to the company.  Make sure you get the most out of the time you spend together.