Seven tips to leverage the power of Advisory Boards


In the early nineties, I was leading the Belgian Chapter of AIESEC ( , 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 (, 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.

My favorite App: “Holidays with the family”

For my first blog post, I wanted to share something I wrote on LinkedIn few months ago and which resonates as we start the Holidays.

Having moved with my family to the US almost 18 months ago, I discovered at the beginning of this year that there was something called “Spring Break,” but I didn’t change my routine and posted the following “Out of Office” message before going on vacation:

Thank you for your email. I’m currently testing a new revolutionary App called “Holidays with the family” which has been developed by my daughters. With one click, it switches off all electronic devices, social media tools and internet connections. I know it’s like being back in the 20th century but it is only a one week experiment so I know I can count on your support and understanding until next Sunday. In the meantime, if you need immediate assistance, please contact …

The response from my friends, colleagues and clients was unanimous: they all loved it and commented positively. I came back a week later, the team was still there, no client had left and the world hadn’t collapsed!

In all fairness, it took me some time to realize it. The first year I started my company, I checked emails and voicemails every single day, several times per day. I came back exhausted while feeling very guilty because I had “left the base!” The second year, despite a strong urge to “switch on,” I managed to unplug for a week and … since then, I do it every year two or three times per year! And guess what: it’s good for my business, it’s good for my family and it’s good for me!

The last days before leaving, I prepare the out of office message and switch it on a few hours before the close of business. At the end of the week, I take a 24 hours buffer to go through the messages at my leisure. Same with my voicemail which, upon return from Spring Break this year, had five messages … including one from my elder daughter who was checking on me!

Until recently, I always thought that this could only be possible if you were an entrepreneur, not a big shot in corporate. Then I read the article “Don’t disconnect, just unplugged” from David Sable, Global CEO of Y&R in which he wrote:

The real digital revolution recognizes that being unplugged adds to your ability to be plugged in. Because our technology solutions will only be as good as the people who make them.

And if we make our human interactions merely transactional, if we keep our thumbs active and our emotions still, if we lose the ability to connect as people, down the road I’d wager the technology will suffer, too.

I couldn’t agree more and have to revise my opinion: whatever the size of your company, whatever your level of responsibility, the more you’ll be able to unplug, the better you and your business will be.

When are you doing it?