Commentary

The Advisory Board Gets Personal

Advisory boards, directly or indirectly, are part of our business lives. These boards are often in the background counseling or watching the backs of our management teams; they're helping steer turnaround or growth of burgeoning businesses. They're five, 10 or 15 people strong. Not necessarily a board of directors, they are engaged individually to address very specific needs, and they lend their collective firepower often in exchange for a bit of equity, additional sector visibility, or a nice quarterly dinner. You may rely on these boards or sit on them. And they seem increasingly vital in these industrious times, when people and teams are continually pushing the rim of their own comfort zones.

If you are thinking about building a board, there's a lot of wisdom to be shared on how to do it. I've been poking around on this front over the past year, and it's  remarkable how obvious some of the published advice on how to build a board is. Like, "Get help in the areas where you need it the most." Or, "Don't treat your advisory board like employees." Even, "Do your research and then get them on quickly." Doesn't sound much different from arranging an obligatory dinner party for your spouse that you don't  really feel like attending. Why take on the burden?

Looks and Feels Like a Mentor
At their best, advisory boards should truly mentor a business. A good friend and business partner of mine, Carolyn Kepcher, does a lot of career coaching for women, including talking to them about what makes for a strong mentoring relationship. Unlike the direct management relationship, there are nuances to the value exchange in these arrangements. It's not always overt and may play out over time. I've never been one for formal mentoring in my own life. I have several secret mentors, people whom I watch, whose anecdotes I soak up, whose actions I might emulate from time to time. Some of these interactions span back to my teens.

If we look at building an advisory board as looking for an excellent mentor, it follows that we might think of these boards as sort of a super-mentor. Areas of coverage might include: helping secure short-term financing or seed capital; providing intelligence on the relevant merger & acquisition landscape; making key client introductions that previously have been a challenge for our own team; or helping shore up the business plan. Stuff that counts.

Looks and Feels Like an Advisory Board
On the flip side, it's interesting to take this down to a personal level. Recently, a friend whose career I respect  shared an interesting personal view. She not only has mentors, but she has a bit of an informal advisory board of her own: her very own ad hoc council, a small assembly of people within her network who are there for her on specific professional areas that she is working on developing.

I liked my friend's idea a lot. It has even more legs than the individual mentor relationship.  I think about what the advisory board for Kendall Allen, LLC, might have looked like if I knew way back when what I would need to know as life roared on. I imagine an advisory who could:

-    Counsel me on how to monetize my moonlighting in the earliest days of my career, as I made the move from print to interactive, without cannibalizing my emerging social life.
-    Guide me early on how to manage up, especially during a crisis that I may or may not have caused myself.
-    Demonstrate how to know when the bell tolls for thee.
-    How to conduct diligence on a management team you are considering joining, above and beyond the usual taking a peek at credentials.
-    Balance my inner company girl and entrepreneurial spirit when looking at new opportunities.

This list is half serious and half in jest. I think I figured most of these things out with a few times around the block, some through innate judgment and some through learned skills. And, I've got the bell-tolling thing down.

I do think that because there's an art to building the right advisory board for your company, there is something to be said for making it personal and thinking about it as mentoring. And in the process, why not create one for yourself? The business life and the career path are no longer two linear propositions. So, the very idea of having a personal advisory board honestly reflects the diversity and intense array of things we have to understand and work toward mastering today, as our business settings shift. 

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2 comments about "The Advisory Board Gets Personal".
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  1. Kendall Allen from WIT Strategy, June 28, 2010 at 5:46 p.m.

    Hi, Paula. Thanks as always for your comments. Though, I will say, knowing fully the bells are funeral bells -- I was speaking irreverently of shall we say a different not so literal version of death.

    Informal mentoring certainly is a constant for so many of us. And, it's something I do a lot of, and plan to continue. It's what's always worked best for exchanging value and comparing notes over the years.

    Take good care. Always good to hear from you here.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 29, 2010 at 6:02 p.m.

    Thank you Kendall. Somehow I know you know about the bell thingy (old Eng lit major thingy), but many of your readers probably didn't. No doubt, you are a super duper mentor and would have been on my list in my day.

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