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Forming A Peer Advisory Board To Cope With COVID-19

The Pandemic is Not Over Yet—It’s Time to Think About Your Company’s Governance

I’ve always known the power of peer advisory boards for accountability purposes, but in the time of COVID-19, it feels like a new light has been shined upon them. If we go back to the moment when this pandemic kicked into high gear, there was a push to make sure that our fellow human beings were all doing OK and finding a way to function properly through the madness of this unforeseen moment. How’s your health? How’s your business? Do you need anything? That sort of thing.

As we’ve moved well beyond those initial months, it’s clear that we have a longer ride with COVID-19 than we realized. We’re going to be engulfed in this struggle against a worldwide virus for quite a while. And probably not just for a couple more months.

Therefore, if we’re going to come to terms with the fact that it will be this way for the rest of 2020 and possibly much longer, what are some things that you need to do as a leader to be proactive?

To prevent yourself from phoning it in for the rest of this year, I do believe you have an opportunity to take a look at your processes and say, “Well, if we’re going to be like this for a long time, what can we fix? What can we do about what we can control right now?”

It’s a fair question, isn’t it?

Why can’t you look at succession issues? 

Why can’t you look at why you don’t get along with the black sheep in your family who happens to be a co-owner? 

Why can’t you have a more cohesive team instead of a dysfunctional one?

For all of these things that we so often kick down the road, I can’t think of a better point in time than right now to address them. All of these things that we said, “Someday we’re going to work on” should get our attention because someday is now. Let’s explore what that looks like for businesses such as yours, particularly how a peer advisory board can help you navigate these times of unpredictable and unsettling change.

What Board Works Best For You?

A quick primer or refresh for some of you on the different types of boards we’re typically talking about:

A formal advisory board or fiduciary board – this type of board should have a stated charter and meet officially. They are also available for impromptu discussions on a variety of big and small issues. This is usually a mix of insiders and outsiders and, with a family-owned business, may have some non-management family members. If you’re looking for an entity that will help you focus on what you need to do to drive your business, it will take more than what a very loose peer group can do.

A peer advisory board – this type of board, being less formal, doesn’t have stakeholders as much as critical advisors you are close to from various industries. It might, but doesn’t have to, include family members. They have your best interests at heart and there’s typically a much closer personal relationship attached to that. In the case of a peer advisory board, especially in a pandemic, it could be extremely valuable to surround yourself with other business owners so that you can raise issues and challenges with them.

Issues A Peer Advisory Board Can Help With

  • What’s the longer-term vision for us beyond this hell we’re currently living in?
  • What’s our process going to be not only now but in the long-term?
  • What will success look like to us in the long-term, and when we get there, will the end destination still make sense to us as much as it does today?
  • How can we spend the time to our advantage to ensure we’re thinking and talking about the truly big issues?
    On this point, the “big issues” can be everything from employee retention to questioning whether the market we’re serving is still going to be the right market.
  • Are our products as profitable as they used to be? Are our services more complicated than we’re making them to be?
    Perhaps we should take the time to talk to not only our own people but our own customers. Wouldn’t that be great for showing that we’re not just hunkered down and dealing with defining, improving and elevating ourselves this whole time?

Let’s be clear here about the peer advisory board. While it may serve in a less formal capacity, honesty during interactions is still essential. That includes accountability, so that if a member hears you talking about something that doesn’t address the question (e.g., the question of what the long-term view of your company is), it’s incumbent upon that person to say, “Wait a minute. Don’t get distracted from what we’re here to do, so that we can keep our tasks and goals front and center.”

Looking Beyond An Advisory Group Of Your Peers

It’s good to take advantage of this unusual time we’ve been given from the pandemic to explore not only a peer advisory board, but also to connect with other people outside of your world. Consider the peer advisory board as your foundation. But in addition to that, who else can ask you the kinds of questions that you’ve been putting off for quite some time? Who, besides yourself, will hold you accountable for meeting the challenge of today instead of dealing with it “someday?”

These things aren’t going to just take care of themselves, so now is the time to do that. Look within your company—but you can also get help from outside sources. This way, when we begin to emerge from this pandemic—and we will—you’ll have the momentum from the foundational work you’ve put in with your peers.

Many of the questions you face as a business owner today can be utilized to build and strengthen your thought process. This way, the next time you come to a fork in the road, you’ve got a way of analyzing what you’re doing—and doing with other people.

[Editor’s Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following webinars: The Effective Board and Roles & Responsibilities: a Primer.]

©All Rights Reserved. December, 2020.  DailyDACTM, LLC d/b/a/ Financial PoiseTM

About David Spitulnik

David Spitulnik is a successful executive with over 40 years of experience in both large technology companies and in consulting to and leadership of mid-market, closely held and family owned businesses across a variety of industries. In addition to serving as chair of the Private Directors Association’s Private and Family Business Center Outreach Committee, David…

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