We see the term “advisory council” bandied about from time to time. But what is it, and why should you have one?
An advisory council is a group of people from companies or organizations who are meaningful stakeholders in your company’s success. They are gathered together for a voluntary term of service at the invitation of the company to provide advice and feedback that will help the company improve. Creating and nurturing one or more advisory councils can become a real competitive advantage if you manage them thoughtfully.
Here are some ways to ensure success:
DON’T MAKE IT A VANITY PROJECT
It’s easy to pull together a panel of people who make you look good, but it’s a meaningless project if all you get is praise. Be genuine about wanting to get real advice and feedback. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to be prepared to hear not only praise but also tough feedback. That means including people you know are likely to be candid and also actively encouraging radical feedback and sharing both wins and challenges with your advisory council members. This can make you feel vulnerable, but taking this leap of faith will help you reap the dual rewards: You’ll get valuable input that will make your company better, and you’ll develop a closer and more authentic relationship with a group of your key stakeholders.
DEFINE THE CONSTITUENT GROUPS AND CONSIDER HAVING MORE THAN ONE COUNCIL
Think about your company, and then group the stakeholders into constituencies. These can be very direct relationships, like clients or partners, or more indirect and generalized, like people from organizations more broadly related to your industry. Also think about whether you’d like them all in one council or whether it makes more sense to have, as an example, a client advisory council and a separate partner advisory council if their values and priorities are somewhat different.
ENSURE A VARIED AND REPRESENTATIVE MIX OF COMPANIES AND PEOPLE
Choose companies that range in size, vertical, geography, and more. Your council should be representative of the constituency as a whole. The same holds for the specific people involved: Include people of differing roles, executive levels, and personalities. The more varied the voices are, the more valuable the collective input will be.
ASSIGN INTERNAL OWNERSHIP FOR THE COUNCIL INITIATIVE
Don’t let this become an “orphan” project. Assign strong leadership to own the council initiative and the relationship, process, planning, and events. Choose the natural leaders who are closest to the subject matter. For a client advisory council, choose the person in your company who is the voice of the customer, like your VP of client success. For your partner advisory council, choose your VP of partnerships.
MAKE MEETINGS COUNT
Prepare for your meetings and share an agenda in advance. Include guest speakers who can update people on what is new since the last meeting. Do demos of new technology, show videos of new locations or functions, and ask for real input.
But make it about more than just meetings. In between meetings, ping members on ongoing topics, send out surveys asking for input, and share works in progress so you stay connected between what are typically quarterly meetings.
SHOW THEM YOU ARE REALLY LISTENING
Once you get feedback, make sure to let your councils know when you take their advice. If they commented on a plan or a user interface, show them how their advice impacted your business in real life. That will be incredibly satisfying to them and motivate them to keep up an active involvement.
ACTUALLY USE THE INSIGHTS
You’re getting great information and advice from your council. Be sure to create a feedback loop that includes all departments in your company so this valuable input can be put to use across your organization.
As with many things, advisory councils give back what you put into them. The action items above should help you successfully kick off your advisory council journey.
Esther Kestenbaum Prozan is President of Ruby Has, a major e-commerce fulfillment provider for direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce brands.