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Want an Advisory Board? Don't Let Remote Challenges Stop You.

Want an Advisory Board? Don't Let Remote Challenges Stop You.

As a CEO trying to navigate my business through a global pandemic, I realized I couldn’t always go it alone when it came to higher-level strategic thinking. I'm often in the weeds at my company, and I needed some help with the 30,000-foot view.

Talking with friends and family was beneficial, but I knew I’d be better off getting continued insights from a trusted cadre of professionals. Enter the advisory board.

Of course, cobbling together an advisory board when we couldn’t even work from our office seemed like a bit of a reach. Yet I knew an advisory board’s guidance would help my company think about what could be instead of what is.

With that in mind, we cracked the code and figured out how to build a killer advisory board. And we did it all remotely. (Thank you, Zoom.)

Enjoying myriad advisory board benefits.

I’m not alone in my belief that an advisory board can be a serious asset to higher-level strategic thinking. After all, many organizations have advisory boards.

In fact, 86% of those that do say having a board has made a measurable impact on their business (think increased sales and a boost in productivity). Those benefits alone would be enough to make me take a second look if I weren’t already sold on the principle.

With all of this, who are the people leaders typically ask to join advisory boards? Generally speaking, they include an array of professionals who care enough about the business (or leadership team) to provide honest opinions but who have no legal or fiduciary responsibilities to the corporation. In other words, they’re willing to have a bit of skin in your game, but they won't be playing alongside you on the field.

[Related: I Was Part of My First Squad This Past Year. It Was a Game-Changer.]

Crafting a stellar advisory board from afar.

Our advisory board buildout journey started when I connected with a few women I trusted who had also crafted advisory boards. They gave me the name of someone who assisted CEOs in setting and reaching corporate milestones. I called her, we clicked, and the runway was cleared for takeoff.

Over the next several weeks, our executive team sourced individuals from across the country to be on our advisory board. Because we weren't limited to any geographic area, I conducted all interviews via videoconference. Ironically, the process felt almost normal — probably not a huge surprise after months of Zooming. Besides, I think having advisory board candidates see the inside of my house rather than my office gave them a taste and vision of who I really was.

Picking and choosing which people our executives wanted on the final advisory board wasn’t easy, though. In the end, the top performers we selected offered diverse backgrounds. On paper, their skill-sets had just enough overlap, like a healthy Venn diagram. Ironically, all of them had at one time lived in the Chicago region — right where our company’s headquarters is and my family lives.

[Related: Embrace Your Identity as a Professional Venn Diagram]

Bringing together a virtual advisory board.

After we picked our advisory board members, I surveyed them to find out what they wanted and needed to feel like a part of a thriving board cohort. One member gave an inspired suggestion: Use board-focused software.

In response, we chose a program, uploaded a range of historical documents, and created our first board book during the winter holidays. By the time our first meeting took place, we were well-positioned to make waves.

What did our first meeting look like? Well, it occurred over our devices. But it was anything but ordinary. We shared a five-course meal and wine-pairing dinner from NutriFit, spouses included. How? World-class dishes were delivered to our houses, and each recipe was presented live by a Californian chef. No, we couldn’t be in the same room. Nevertheless, we could taste the same magnificent food, explore palate-pleasing vintages, and talk about everything under the sun.

In preparation for our second meeting, I sent big boxes of authentic Chicago treats to all the board members. While on Zoom, we shared the food while reminiscing about our various Windy City memories. Again, we grew closer and more trusting over a meal — even though we were all seated in different dining rooms (and states!).

In a short time — and with these intentional and engaging events — we've built a culture that fosters transparency. The board is comfortable telling my team the hard truths and encouraging us to step outside our comfort zone.

Our advisory board is continuing to grow into a group of professionals concerned about the future of the company I lead. Eventually, we expect to meet up in person. However, we’ve shown that distance doesn’t have to be a deterrent when it comes to making authentic connections that fuel constructive advice. Quite honestly, we’ve already engaged in some very deep and challenging conversations, and we haven’t even celebrated our first advisory board anniversary.

Are you in a similar position as the head of a company? If so, I encourage you to consider the benefits of selecting and appointing an advisory board of your own to assist high-level strategic thinking and help uncover new possibilities.

Yes, you already have plenty to do. Yes, an advisory board will take up more time. But if you take the process seriously and plan ahead, you’ll get far more than you give.

[Related: The Nine Types of People You Need in Your Success Circle]


Alison Gutterman is the president and CEO of Jelmar, the family-owned cleaning products manufacturer of CLR and Tarn-X products. She began her career at Jelmar in 1993 without a title or a desk, and in 2007 was named its president, bringing the company unprecedented success with her modern approach and leadership techniques. She also balances work with parenthood as a single mother of two children, and she resides in the greater Chicago area.

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