Advisory boards can add value in multiple areas, including growth strategy, market development, technology deployment, operational excellence, capital raising, etc. Your board members are selected based on the array of skills, expertise, experience and relationships they bring to the table. An effective advisory board requires an understanding among senior management, business owners / family members, and of course, individual board advisors, of the company’s vision and the board’s objectives. It typically also requires mutual cooperation, so it’s important to communicate across the enterprise why an advisory board is being established, and that constituents should expect some level of board member interaction.
Familiarize board members with the organization and its operating environment and introduce them to key employees. While board members have expertise in certain domains, they can likely benefit from learning about specific areas across the enterprise. Consider facilitating ‘deep dives’ on topics that are germane to the board’s overall objectives.
You recruited specific advisors for a reason, and you can maximize member engagement, and ultimately board productivity, by capitalizing on their skills and experience. Structure board meetings and associated action plans with an eye on what your advisors bring to the table and how they approach key challenges. When done correctly, their efforts will help advance the enterprise.
Hold Productive Meetings
When planning board meetings, the CEO / Owner should ensure productive board dynamics and focus on key objectives most likely to engage board members to drive enterprise success. Ensure that the meetings are managed by a capable, results-oriented facilitator.
Advisory board meetings should follow a regular schedule with carefully developed agendas that specify the purpose of the meeting and that contribute to measurable progress toward defined goals. Relevant materials should be distributed well in advance. Board members should receive minutes of the prior meeting, along with specific action items.
The meeting should be held in a comfortable location, free of distractions. Snacks and non-alcoholic beverages should be made available. Establish the meeting format, invite questions, encourage active participation and remind the board that all ideas are welcome. Make sure board members are clear about their responsibilities and provide access to resources relevant to any assignments or action items.
To best leverage the board, discussion topics should be geared toward areas where individual board members are in position to offer expert advice. Ensure that the meetings are highly interactive, so that attendees can voice their opinions and offer constructive advice.
For hybrid or virtual meetings, treat remote attendees in the same manner as an in-person board meeting, even if you need to ship them a box of cookies. Test the technology interface to avoid – or at least minimize – audio / video problems.
Ensure that board members leave each meeting with a clear understanding of all action items and related timing. If your board meetings are held relatively infrequently, be sure to provide updates on items relevant to the business in general and to the board’s specific objectives, as appropriate. If the Board has adopted key performance indicators (KPIs) and other data-driven metrics, try to frame your updates in ways that incorporate these metrics.
Remember that board members are busy and may not always focus on the issues and tasks related to their board duties.
In addition to holding regular meetings with the entire board, you should also have periodic meetings with individual advisors to cement working relationships and gain specific insights that may not emerge at a group meeting.
Communication Breeds Engagement
Maintain communication channels in a way that facilitates periodic and productive interactions across the enterprise. Ensure that your advisors and key constituents have access to this information with relevant technology platforms for messaging, project management and document storage. Taking advantage of these communication channels helps keep board members engaged and aware of relevant organizational activities.
Enable board members to collaborate amongst themselves – outside of board meetings – as appropriate. Consider retreats or other informal gatherings where board members can connect on a personal level, away from their daily business environment.
The process of recruiting advisors is, by definition, one of relationship building. As members join the board, you should strengthen these relationships by allowing your advisors to add value in the context of their board duties while creating stronger ties to the enterprise and its constituents. Encourage board members to interact with people across the enterprise wherever feasible. This stimulates cross-fertilization of ideas and helps boost engagement.
Consider creating committees – with specific deliverables – that allow advisors and perhaps key staff members to work together. Be mindful of advisor time constraints. Where feasible, committee assignment should permit relatively short-term deliverables. As with the board meetings, ensure that committees are capably managed to maximize engagement, productivity and progress.
When confronting the issue of management and/or control change within a closely-held business, the advisory board can offer unbiased advice on the best course of action. For potential leaders, interaction with an advisory board can be a good training ground, since the board can discuss key issues and provide broader perspectives on these issues.
Remember to thank board members for bringing a great idea to the table or for connecting a new resource to your organization. A personal expression of your appreciation will mean a lot and may inspire them to keep doing great things. Social media shoutouts / newsletter mentions are another great way to show appreciation.
Evaluate Board Performance
Just as you evaluate employees, it’s important to monitor and evaluate board performance. Periodic assessments can be conducted in a variety of ways, including self-evaluation, peer-to-peer and third-party assessments. They can help management see how well the board is engaged, how effectively it is operating, where engagement should be increased and where improvements can be made.
Don’t underestimate the power of feedback from the management team and others. This can be especially useful when there is a high level of board member interaction within the organization. Consider using survey platforms that simplify this process and analyze the results.
Engagement Breeds Empowerment
A capable Board of Advisors offers the enterprise a wealth of benefits, including:
- Knowledge sharing
- Broader networks
- Valuable perspectives
- Strategic relationships
- Access to resource and markets
- Business maturity and wisdom
- Unfiltered advice and guidance
- More confident managers
- Stronger leaders
- A roadmap for success
Building a strong board and proactively engaging its members will go a long way toward realizing these benefits.
Our attorneys offer guidance and counsel to closely held business owners including the value of building an advisory board. Please call our offices at (781) 235-5500 or contact us to learn more about how we help businesses from formation through succession planning.
This article is not legal advice and should not be taken as such or relied upon as legal advice.