Conceptually, an advisory board can offer significant benefits to organisations at all stages of growth. The ability to have experienced practitioners available to advise on business challenges and growth initiatives is a seductive, appealing and often effective one. However, the creation of an advisory board will not necessarily be a guarantee of receiving the right advice or expertise. Critical to ensuring its success, is treating the recruitment of each board member in the same way you would any senior management position.
There are two types of board member – those who fill gaps in your business’s existing skill set and those who complement and enhance your strengths. It’s important before any hiring decisions are made, that you understand clearly what your strengths and weaknesses actually are, beyond personal perceptions and bias. As with any individual, businesses are usually distinctly unaware of their weaknesses and overestimate their core strengths. When introducing an advisory board, it’s important that this process is not a guessing game, but one of impartial and scientific reasoning. Money spent on outside expertise prior to hiring can be the difference between a powerful and effective board, and a revolving door of impotent directors.
Once you’ve determined the type of people you need from a skill set standpoint, the next step is to discuss cultural implications. What is it you want your board to do? How will you measure their effectiveness, and how much interaction will be required between them and senior management? Best practice methodology in this area is available from the Institute of Directors, which is also an excellent source for training and development. However, in the end, you will have to decide the nature of your board, and the type of people who will best fit into your business. Too often, organisations do not consider the cultural elements of an advisory board, simply because they are not constantly present in the business itself, but if their advice is to be heeded and if their expertise is to be effectively integrated into your organisation, it’s vital that cultural elements are taken into account.
Finally, the recruitment process. Again, external advisors can both streamline the process, and maximise it’s potential for success. This comes back again to understanding strengths and weaknesses – if you’ve never recruited a board member before, don’t take it for granted that you’ll be good at it. Be sure to hire someone with extensive experience in the recruitment of boards, and don’t hesitate to ask for referrals and contact those referrals to gain an appreciation for your consultant’s experience.
As with any major business initiative, your new board can be an effective and complimentary addition to your organisation, or an expensive distraction. Forward planning, and being receptive to external advice is vital.