Two years ago I was asked for suggestions to improve a medium-sized IT business. I went through and looked at all the normal components I would look at in improving a business.
It seemed to me they were doing most things very well. I could really only see that I was going to play around with the edges. I started to look further and I stole an idea from big business and modified it to be applicable to small and medium-sized businesses.
Any health professional will say you have to be careful taking your own pulse, as your own pulse can interfere with the measuring of your heart rate. It is the same in business. Often you are so deep in the engine room that you can’t really see the bigger picture.
One of the best ways to work on your business is to receive regular feedback from your clients so you can continually monitor what you offer and improve your overall business. With this in mind, I believe there is a place for a more formal process – and one that used to only be the realm of big business. The advisory board.
As a result of discussions with businesses that are already running well, I have created three advisory boards with the aim of maintaining their success. On each advisory board we have a mix of vendors and clients and we meet quarterly.
These people are not paid to be on the advisory board (expenses are covered) and everyone we have invited is incredibly happy to be a part of the board.
The process can be relatively simple although you have to back the concept completely. You can’t make it an after-thought and continually shuffle other priorities ahead of the board of its meetings. If you want to create an advisory board, there are few steps to go through to ensure success.
I would recommend you create an “Expression of Interest” document. Send this document to hand-picked people you want to be on the board and also use it on your web site when you are first creating the awareness of the advisory board. You will be amazed at some of the people that apply for the board from left-field.
In this document, explain the concept of the advisory board you are creating, outline the purpose, and then go into the mechanics of the structure, membership and composition.
It is important people understand the concept. It would also explain the suggested time requirements of board member.
Most importantly in this process, you would have a very basic application form as part of the EOI document. You want people to jump a few small hurdles to be a part of it. This makes it more transparent but also creates the impression that being a part of the advisory board is a prestigious and sought-after position.
Once you go through the selection process and create some media hype about the idea, you are ready to host your first meeting. As is the case with the advisory boards that I chair, I would recommend an external and completely separate chair to host the meetings. It is also important they are not seen as a yes man for the organisation.
At the first meeting, it is important that the correct expectations are created and I normally have an advisory board document that all members sign (including agreeing to confidentiality). At that first meeting, it is absolutely crucial specific outcomes are agreed to by your organisation and by the individual members of the advisory board.
Members do not want to turn up to each meeting and feel as though they are wasting their time. They will feel the exercise is worthwhile if they are seeing change as a direct result of their input.
It is relatively easy to get people on your board. The members like the chance to see new technologies and what direction your organisation is taking. Ideally you will see two outcomes from your advisory board.
First, you will improve your business. Having that constant feedback from your important vendors and clients is a sure way to help your business.
Second, by openly discussing and advertising the existence of your advisory board, you are sending a very clear message to your client base that you are very interested in their views of your organisation. You also make it clear you want your organisation to be as good as it can be.
Tell me if you like the idea of an advisory board – or if you already have one -- at firstname.lastname@example.org.