The Impact of Establishing an Effective Advisory Board

I recently spoke in Christchurch at an Institute of Directors event on the impact Advisory Boards can have for businesses who choose to implement them. There was then a panel discussion that further explored the topic.

I currently have four independent directorships (currently chairing two boards). In my consulting role I work as a strategist, high performance leadership coach and adviser to a number of Boards of Directors. At any one time a number of our client companies are restructuring Advisory Boards or establishing them for the first time.

In my opinion establishing an Advisory Board is a great way to add some real value to a business. It is a safe way to test the waters as to whether a formal board structure is the right course of action and a safe way for long term business owners to get their heads around this option. Interestingly founders having had an advisory board and then going on to establish a full board often reflect that they wish they had established the formal board from the get go. That said there is usually a healthy desire for an Advisory Board as a logical stepping stone.

The purpose of an advisory board is to allow the directors of the business to access regular strategic advice from a group of trusted advisers familiar with the business who can contribute to the future success of the business. It’s also a robust platform for working on the business rather than in it. 

The IOD 4 pillars book (starting page 80) has a chapter on Advisory Boards and I point this out it as a very good reference. I particularly like very first headline bullet point – “Advisory Boards provide advice but do not make decisions and have no authority to govern.”

Legally an Advisory Board offers advice which the directors of the Company can choose to adopt or not. The advisers are effectively operating in a consulting capacity and the minutes must be careful to note that these conversations are such. This prevents those advisers from being deemed as acting in the capacity of a director. 

In my experience the key advantages of establishing an effective Advisory Board are;

  • They allow the shareholder, director and management discussions to be separated often for the first time. This adds structure and clarity. Shareholder expectations can be discussed in a separate meeting allowing the directors to focus fully on governing the business.This then starts the process of allowing the MD or GM to drive the business day to day.
  • Different Advisers can be engaged come for certain pieces of advice or thinking which changes the discussion and allows deeper/broader consideration of advice.
  • The Advisory Board is a stepping stone for succession that allows founders to get out of their business day to day. They can begin to see and understand how they can govern their business without being in it day to day. If run effectively it allows a discussion that rises above the day to day operations of the business……to give that valuable helicopter view of the business.
  • A strategic agenda can be discussed and a focus put on the execution that creates momentum.
  • The way decisions have traditionally been made is challenged and creates different outcomes.
  • Trust is built as to how to listen to advice and take advice. Many businesses seek advice but don’t adopt that advice. In my view when a business starts to value the advice and implement it the business starts to grow up. There are break throughs as the important things start to get addressed.
  • If the business is coming under management it allows a platform that supports the CEO/GM to be given the autonomy to lead. It helps the founder get out of the way whilst providing the confidence that there is still accountability and transparency. It can allow founders to have a management role that may not be making the key decisions day to day.

There are a number of ways to approach the implementation of an advisory board and certainly every situation is subtly different. Getting this right can really allow a business to get key break throughs and to realise their potential.

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