What Should you Look for in an Advisory Board Member?
Contributed by Marissa Levin.
An advisory board is an extension of your company, of you, and of your brand, just as everyone who is affiliated with your company – your customers, employees, partners, board members – all reflect your brand. If your advisers are involved in any business development activities, they will be engaging with prospective and current customers as a representative of your organization.
Essential Candidate Attributes
Through conversations with more than 100 successful business owners and through my personal experience, I’ve identified nine specific attributes that are essentials for effective advisory board members. They are:
- Solid track record of high integrity and strong character. This is the single-most important character trait of any board member. You’ll be sharing highly confidential information about all aspects of your company. Public disclosure of your shared information could have potentially disastrous effects. Trust is paramount.
- Generosity of spirit. Look for board members that have a track record of helping others and giving back to the entrepreneurial community. The authentic desire to help others will go a long way as you integrate your board members into your company.
- Recognized, seasoned expert. Your board and your organization shouldn’t be a testing ground for ideas that “might” work. The premise behind a board is to receive guidance from those who know more than you, and have a proven track record of success.
- Has already accomplished what you want to accomplish. If your company is at $5 million now and you want to get it to $10 million in the next 18 months, you must surround yourself with people who are already where you want to be. If you want to apply for a specific certification, you will want a board member who has already gone through that process. If you want to shift your business model from one that is product/service centric to one that is customer centric, you will want a business owner who has already successfully navigated the same transition.
- Is well-connected. This is especially true for a board member who will play a key role in your sales or business development efforts. A well-connected board member will open up new doors and bring opportunities that you might not have discovered. Every board member should greatly expand the businesses network of resources.
- Plays well with others. A board is a team of highly experienced professionals who might or might not know each other. The last thing you want to worry about is a clash of personalities, or an ego that is difficult to manage. When board members come to the table, they must understand that the meeting isn’t about them. It’s about the organization they are serving.
- Isn’t a “yes” A board is in place to challenge the organization’s current state of affairs. Board members must be willing to voice concerns and suggestions with as much candor and honesty as possible. They must have guts to ask tough questions and can’t be easily intimidated.
- Is available to show up. A board member candidate might have all of the right qualifications, but if they travel extensively or can’t be available between meetings, they probably aren’t a good fit. All board members must attend all meetings, and depending on the agreement in place, might be required to attend additional meetings throughout the year with potential customers or the company’s leadership.
- Is reliable. One of the worst things a board member can do is fail to follow through or not show up.
What to Avoid
Just as with your employment selection process, it’s important to know what you do not want in an advisory board member. Based on conversations with other business owners, and speaking from experience, here is a list of “avoid-at-all-costs” traits:
- A jack-of-all-trades. Your board should be a collection of experts and specialists. While all board members will bring deep experience with them and will have valuable input on a variety of topics, ideally you want a collection of true experts. The goal should be to stack your board room with people who are at the mastery level in a specific organizational function, rather than at the “mediocre” level. You want the best, and the best requires a laser focus.
- Driven by a self-focused agenda. Some are interested in board participation to build their resumes, expand their network, make additional money, or perhaps even acquire you as a client. All of these things are fine as secondary objectives, but the primary driver for all board participation should be to help the organization grow.
- You are implementing a board to gain access to expert talent. This is a time for you to surround yourself with people who have a long, proven track record of performance. The last thing you want to do with your board is mentor them. They are there to mentor you.
- Big ego. With experience, often comes ego. There’s no room for ego at the table. You’ll be meeting with lots of people who have accomplished great things. Look for humility and modesty in your search process. Egotistical behavior negates the value of experience, and can unravel or jeopardize even the strongest boards.
- People who are in the exact place where you are now. The primary reason you are implementing your board is to move you from one level to the next. If you are currently at $5 million and you want to scale to $15 million over the next 18 to 24 months, you need people on your board who have accomplished or surpassed this milestone. Your entire company will change through this growth. These are difficult and sometimes painful transitions. You will experience changes in customers, personnel, processes, infrastructure, and culture. Your HR, IT, and legal needs will grow increasingly complex. Your board is going to be an instrumental component in your navigation of these changes, so you require members that have already gone through it.
These attributes are a great starting point for business owners who are searching for their best candidates.