5 Steps to Creating Advisory Boards that Work

September 2014

blog post-advisors

Photo by iStock

How many times have you come into an advisory group full of enthusiasm and ideas, only to see it wither within a few sessions? Or the mission changes and you are suddenly wondering: “Why bother?”

We know we’ve felt that way. We kept all our war stories in mind when we recently created and now moderate an Editorial Advisory Board for a client with a global presence. In this case, they are helping guide content for a membership magazine that Twirling Tiger Media produces. So far, the board is working well. That’s why we’re today sharing some tips so you too can benefit from a team of advisors.

Choose wisely. We intentionally waited to launch the Editorial Advisory Board until we had a couple of issues under our belt, so those we recruited would have a sense of our design esthetic and editorial preferences. This is a global organization, so we wanted to be sure there was someone representing the interests of members in Asia, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), South/Latin America and North America. It was important they all have different careers in the field and varying degrees of involvement in the organization—enough to stay informed but not burn out. We also wanted people on the executive team to be involved since they too had a stake in messaging and subject matter.

Because we were new to the organization, we asked for recommendations from people we trusted. Not everyone we approached was interested; this is to be expected. For some, English was the biggest barrier; for others, they couldn’t commit to quarterly meetings because of work schedules. But they also made recommendations, and those people were eager to be on board. We also kept the group to 7 advisors—and only 7. This is a workable number and helps ensure a quorum and ample time for each to contribute to discussions.

Set expectations—then be sure they are met. With each recruit, we outlined in an email what was expected of them: the time commitment in particular and got sign in before welcoming them aboard to everyone. These are busy people, so we kept it to quarterly meetings. Because people called in from all over the world, we made sure that the moderator (Anne) was the only one most inconvenienced by holding meetings at 5 a.m. PST. Then we kept to that time instead of moving it around. Meeting announcements are sent well in advance and follow-up reminders appear in inboxes 24 hours prior. Meeting minutes are sent out within 48 hours too since, as you’ll read, they usually include assignments and deadlines.

Make sure you outline the WIIFMs. Most are familiar with the acronym WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Because these busy people weren’t being paid for their contributions, we made sure they were visible in the magazine each issue (in the masthead and next year in a column). Most don’t need the advisory board on their resume; they are doing this because they care about the organization. But if your board members need more incentive, consider adding them to a page on your website for more visibility (and accountability). This also is a great networking opportunity for those with expertise but not a lot of exposure in their fields.

Honor opinions; act on good suggestions. This is where a lot of advisory boards come unhinged. Members come in with ideas or make great contributions during discussions, and then nothing happens. Or, worse, the reverse of what’s recommended follows and the moderator never explains what happened and why.

Or personalities clash and members leave fuming.

Good meeting management means not only does everyone get a chance to have their say, but that at the end action items are developed and assigned. This not only holds members but management accountable. And when members see action being taken, even those initially outvoted should respect the process. Unless, of course, the team is comprised of cronies who rubberstamp a leadership’s decisions—which we aren’t assuming here.

Give everyone their due. You recruit people to represent a segment of the community, which, if done well, means you will have diversity of thought and experiences reflected in talks. It also requires sensitivity to cultures. Try not to be led by a vocal minority.

Try also not to hoard praise, especially if the ideas for a successful program or launch originated in a committee or board meeting. Share the kudos and be sure to extend them when appropriate. This not only makes for a more productive group, but a popular one that everyone will want to join.

—Anne