As an executive search and business owner transition coach I’m often asked to help owners sort through the maze of professional services made available to help them run their business better.  It makes sense then to learn why peer advisory boards are one of these professional services, and why they might help you as a business owner in growing your business.

In this post I’ll discuss what they are, how they are used to help businesses manage better, what should be included in a peer advisory program, and how you should expect to see improvements.

What Is A Peer Advisory Board?

Peer advisory boards are typically a membership organization of business owners from non-competing businesses.  Other forms include business owners from similar businesses, where geography eliminates these businesses being in direct competition. Other forms include C-level executives.  The purpose generally is to have the board members work together to improve the performance of their companies through a focus on needs analysis, problem solving, and discussion of different perspectives and approaches to shared problems.  These boards are led by a highly experienced executives and trained facilitators.

How Do Peer Advisory Boards Help Businesses Manage Better?

As business owners we all have a unique perspective on how to run our own business. Sometimes this perspective can benefit another business owner.  As a search professional and business owner transition coach I marvel at how one person’s perspective can provide a break through to another person.  Think about it.  That other peer does not have the emotional baggage attached to your problem, and can more clearly provide a fresh approach to your problem, challenge or need.

What Should Be Included In A Peer Advisory Program?

As you investigate the alternative programs and their approaches, here is where you might see some variation.  There are several subsets to this.

    Diagnostic Assessment – A Health Check

One of my business owners asked me why it was necessary to conduct a business health check-up on his business by engaging his senior team in the assessment process.  First off – I think a good number of consultants and coaches, as well as other business owners can tell you their opinion of what your needs are – and they may be right.  But as I’ve said at other times, why guess when you can know.  If you can systematically diagnose major areas of concern in employee alignment, personnel, team effectiveness, leadership, strategy & planning, customer service, sales & marketing, operations, management, and your business culture – wouldn’t you want objective feedback?

    Diagnostic Assessment – The Board Member’s Needs

It’s common in every client engagement for me to identify client needs and potential causes to a client’s specific issues.  In peer advisory boards it’s no different.  Members join for several reasons – yet sometimes they are able to explain these reasons very well – and sometimes they can’t.  When diagnostic assessments can explain how you think and make decisions, can identify your motivational style and drivers, and can verify your preferred behavioral style it helps the board member get a better handle on the outcomes she needs for herself and from the board.

    Session Time Frames

Typically the boards meet monthly, yet the time monthly will vary from 2 hours to 6 hours.  Part of the variance involves the agenda which typically involves an update from prior month’s action items, a general issue discussion where the facilitator will present information germane to all board members, and a member specific issue discussion where a member will present his company issue and board members will discuss potential causes and solutions.

     Subject Matter Experts

Another variation, and one quite helpful for very small businesses, is to provide a training component to each session varying from management and motivation tools to financial management tools.  Additionally, its common to have subject matter experts present innovative and best practice information from sales, marketing, technology, and financing.

How You Should Expect To See Improvements?

You get what you give.  Honestly, peer advisory boards, when effectively facilitated; provide board members immediate feedback on the issue they are discussing (whether their own or another peer).  Additionally improvements can be measured through the update section to each monthly agenda discussion.  Oftentimes board members will provide suggestions for metrics that the board member can incorporate into the improvement measurement process.   In another post I describe the One Page Owner’s Group, as it’s a great way to plan and measure improvements – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Where Can I Learn More About Peer Advisory Boards?

You’ve probably heard the phrase – there’s one coming to a neighborhood near you.  Seriously, if you have an interest in learning more about the what, why, and how of peer advisory boards, I recommend that you get a free assessment of your own management and leadership strength.  As your executive search and business owner transition coach, I’d be happy to assist.