Seven tips to leverage the power of Advisory Boards

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In the early nineties, I was leading the Belgian Chapter of AIESEC (www.aiesec.org) , the largest international association of students in economics and management, and although we were students, we already had an Advisory Board composed of the main HR Directors of our sponsors companies (Accenture (now Andersen consulting), P&G, Unilever, Deloitte, etc). It gave the association a solid amount of credibility towards the business community and allowed us to get honest feedback and test new ideas.

Few years later, when I started Swantegy (www.swantegy.com), I put together an Advisory Board, made up of friends with C-Level positions. Once a year, I would outline to them all my challenges and was sure of getting direct feedback … very direct feedback!

Since then, as a participant or as a facilitator, I have been involved in Advisory Boards in various Industries and I’ve witnessed the impact they have on organizations.

Here are 7 tips for your next Advisory Board.

  1. Understand Why

I know, it sounds obvious but you would be surprised how often people don’t know why they set up an advisory board.

Why do you run an advisory board? Why do you ask people to block time in their calendar for you? Why do you invest in bringing your advisors together to discuss face-to-face?

Generally, the reason for your advisory board will fall into one or two of these three categories:

  • You want to use the names of the Advisors to open doors for sales or funding
  • You have specific challenges for which you are seeking honest and direct feedback
  • You want to grow your organization and are looking to tap into the minds of several experts on a regular basis, kind of informal Board of Directors.

Whatever the reason, make sure it is clear in your mind as well as clearly and openly stated to the potential advisors.

  1. Identify challenges

Your advisors are experts in their field and they are VERY busy. The better they are prepared, the better they will contribute but they need to know what you are seeking feedback on.

Identifying your challenges will have two direct benefits: it will help you focus on the essential questions and it will guide you in your short list of potential advisors.

  1. And the nominees are…

Based on the first two tips, make a short list of potential advisors.

Think diversity of backgrounds and experiences and think outside of the box. For instance, if your challenge is around compliance for a pharmaceutical company dealing with chronic disease, instead of your usual “pharma suspect”, bring on a behavioral psychologist or a marketing expert in loyalty program. They will likely generate new ideas that might result in a completely new approach.

Ideally, you will end up with 12 to 15 confirmed advisors which, because of the inevitable “no-shows”, will ensure a manageable group and great insights.

  1. Who facilitates and takes notes?

Ideally, someone who is not from your organization. Not only will they keep time and people on track, but they will also make sure to ask the tough questions and get true and honest feedback from your advisors.

Budget permitting, your facilitator will concentrate on the advisors, their non-verbal reactions and the pace of the meeting, while someone else will focus on taking notes and capturing every good idea for future implementation.

  1. Perry Mason or CSI Miami?

It’s better to sign an NDA than search for DNA after a leak of confidential information!

Everyone around the table should be reminded that all discussions and information are confidential and cannot be shared without your consent.

You will find the right balance between laying out the current reality and keeping the ingredients of your secret sauce.

  1. Don’t Sell, Don’t Justify, Just Listen

You have two ears, two eyes and one mouth, use them in that proportion!

Make sure you keep an open mind while listening and sincerely pay attention.

Avoid selling your products or services to your board, especially if it’s an advisory board made up of customers or potential customers. You will turn them off and make them wonder if you really wanted their feedback.

Don’t justify yourself. Constructive critics will make you better and stronger. It’s an advisory board not an exam!

  1. Follow Up and Implement

Your advisors will appreciate knowing what you took away from the advisory board meeting and how you are planning to implement it in your organization.

You don’t need to send a full report but an executive summary will go a long way and will make sure that they are ready for the next meeting.

Are you participating or facilitating Advisory Boards? Please share your thoughts and tips here so that we can all continue to improve.

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