Private Advisory Board

Don’t Grow it Alone

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

It’s your business. You are the final decision maker. You are accountable to the board, or perhaps there is no board and you are the founder/owner. So where do you go when you need advice? Have you established a mastermind group or advisory board? Do you really have “all the answers?” Who questions your answers?

Some small private companies are “life-style companies” that the owner has no intention of growing. She has no vision of passing it along to anyone else. Yet, if the business is to remain viable, even for her, it will need to grow because if it isn’t growing, it is, by definition dying. Competitors will force us to grow our businesses–we can’t “stand still.” The complaint I hear at this point is that I no longer own a business, it owns me! How do I get out of this mess? Well, you can shut down the business and go back to being an employee. Or, you can grow the business, hire trusted employees and then relinquish some of the work so that you can enjoy what you’ve built. That in itself will require that you initially put in more time and comes with all the frustrations of employees and growing a business. Hold that thought for a minute.

What if you are the CEO of a public company and have a board of directors? Who do you turn to for advice and clarity around an opportunity or challenge? The Board is your employer. Where do you go to get your answers questioned without causing concern – you can only admit to “not knowing the answer” so many times before boards and employees begin to lose confidence. Yet we all know that we either don’t have the answer or we know that someone should at least question our approach; perhaps pointing out a new view that opens creative solutions not previously explored. Do you have your own private advisory board to run things by before going in front of the Directors?

In both of these cases, a mastermind group, or a peer advisory board can be of immense help in challenging you to think outside the box or admit to what part of the problem you own or to provide some unique insights for your situation. This is definitely not a new idea. I first came across this concept in the business world when reading Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich. Then again as a consultant to several small businesses, and the ones doing well had this in common – they set up a peer advisory board. I found that some were formal and some were informal. Some were paid boards and some were purely voluntary. This is not the same as the usual not-for-profit boards where a person pays to be on the board and it is generally focused on fund raising. I’m talking about a group of peers who have your best interest at heart and you either pay them for their time or perhaps it is a group that all pitch in for the cost of meetings and agree to help each other. The most effective boards are diverse. Of course there can be no competitors and no other strong business ties (vendor, interlocking board memberships, etc.). Making sure you have advisors who are sharp business people with experience, but not in your industry, will give the best results.

So regardless of your intentions for your business or career, establishing a trusted peer advisory board will help you achieve your goals, make life a bit more relaxing, alleviate some of the isolation, provide fresh thinking and help you avoid pitfalls. Who doesn’t need that kind of help today? Business has changed and will not be going back to what it was three years ago. Why try and grow it alone? Why not build a team that has your best interest at heart?