Lead Article (Self-help topic – CREATE AN ADVISORY BOARD)

My focus for this month centres on communication. Companies often have a great story to tell but potential clients don’t know about it because they don’t hear about it. If they don’t hear about it, they often assume a negative view rather than a positive view. It is absolutely essential that an organisation communicates a very strong view of the vision and abilities of that organisation. This particularly applies to the MSP space as this is a new and exciting area and it needs to be explained to clients.

It is also essential to receive regular feedback from your clients so you can continually monitor what you offer and improve your overall business. As soon as you stand still, you go backwards fast. I recommend that in each regular consultancy meeting you have with your MSP clients, you do a short survey to gain constant feedback on crucial areas on your business.

These informal ad-hoc discussions with individual clients are very useful but lately I have been utilising a more formal process that used to only be the realm of big business. I currently chair two advisory boards for two separate organisations. On each advisory board we have a mix of vendors and clients and we meet quarterly. These people are not paid to be on the Advisory Board (expenses are covered) and everyone that we have ever invited s incredibly happy to be a part of the board.

The process can be relatively simple although you have to back the concept completely. You can’t make it an after-thought and continually shuffle other priorities ahead of the board of its meetings.

Firstly, I would recommend you create an ‘Expression of Interest’ document. Send this document to people you have hand-picked that you want to be on the board and also use it on your Web site when you are first creating the awareness of the Advisory Board. You will be amazed at some of the p[people that apply for the board from left-field. In this document, explain the concept of the Advisory Board you are creating, outline the purpose, and then go into the mechanics of the structure, membership and composition. It is important that people understand the concept. It would also explain the suggested time requirements of board member and even have suggested meeting dates and locations (the third Wednesday of each quarter or whatever).

Most importantly in this process, you would have a very basic application form as part of the EOI document. You want people to jump a few hurdles to be a part of it. This makes it more transparent but also creates the impression that being a part of the Advisory Board is a prestigious and sought-after position. Once you go through the selection process and create some media hype about the idea, you are ready to host your first meeting. As is the case with the two Advisory Boards that I chair, I would recommend an external and completely separate chair to host the meetings. This person will have several responsibilities but it is also important that they are not seen as a yes man for the organisation. This person is the only person on the board that should be paid as they will be taking care of the organisational role between meetings.

At the first meeting, it is important that the correct expectations are created and I normally have an Advisory Board document that all members sign (including agreeing to confidentiality). At that first meeting, it is absolutely crucial that specific outcomes are agreed to by your organisation and by the individual members of the Advisory Board. Members do not want to turn up to each meeting and feel as though they are wasting their time. They will feel the exercise is worthwhile if they are seeing change as a direct result of their input. It is also a waste of time for your organisation if you don’t achieve some outcomes from it. There is only a small cost for the Advisory Board but there is also staff time and effort to consider so you need to be sure that the success can be easily measured.

As with any meeting, you wold need an agenda to be sent out prior to each meeting and minutes would need to be recorded at the meeting to be sent to all members after each meeting.

It is relatively easy to get people on your board. The members like the opportunities to see new technologies and to see what direction your organisation is taking. They like the concept that they can shape and influence the strategic direction of your organisation and often members say they can improve their own organisations through what they learn. As an added bonus, they usually get a free lunch!

Ideally you will see two specific outcomes from your Advisory Board. Firstly, you will definitely improve your business. Having that constant feedback from your important vendors and clients is a sure way to help your business. Secondly, by openly discussing and advertising the existence of your Advisory Board, you are sending a very clear message to your client base that you are very interested in their views of your organisation. You also make it clear that you want your organisation to be as good as it can be.

Tell me if you like the idea of an Advisory Board – or if you already have one – at md@smallbusinessrules.com.

Business Tip of the Month

Rule 37: All The World’s Problems Can Be Solved By Talking

Communication is one of the greatest assets that a business manager can possess. Many people believe they are great communicators – and they may well be – but they forget to show off their skills. It is of no use having great communication skills if you spend your entire day in front of your computer posting comments on Facebook. My recommendation to improve internal communications and reduce the number of internal problems is to schedule each team leader or divisional head to have a monthly meeting with every single one of their direct reports (this is usually no more than seven people). Sometimes staff will say there is nothing to discuss but that is exactly when you should have a discussion. If there is a major issue to discuss, it may well be too late. Having regularly ‘forced’ communication sessions means that communication just comes more naturally to both parties and you are more likely to achieve better outcomes.

In direct contrast to the old chestnut that someone has the ‘gift of the gab’ I believe that great communicators should actually be referred to by something that illustrates their superior listening ability. For example, maybe we should say that someone has ‘a big set of ears’ or ‘can hear a whisper at 100 paces’ because the great communicators I know have excellent listening and empathy skills and don’t actually need to talk that much.

See if you can use your ears more than your mouth in your communications and see how well your staff and clients respond.


Science Quiz Question

I am sure you remember from your high-school science the ‘fire triangle’. The three sides for fire to exist are heat, fuel and oxygen. One of the best ways to extinguish a fire is to starve it of oxygen. An average candle will burn almost the same amount of oxygen as an average human (about 17 litres per hour for the candle and about 21 litres per hour for a human). If we place a candle in a sealed glass container and watch it burn, it will burn normally until it uses up most of the oxygen in the glass container and then, being starved of oxygen, the candle will go out. My question is this. If I place two candles in a sealed glass container, one candle taller than the other candle, will both candles go out at approximately the same time or will one candle go out before the other candle (and if so will the taller candle go out first or the shorter candle)?


Science Quiz Answer

We know that matter can’t be created or destroyed so that when a candle burns and consumes oxygen, the oxygen doesn’t disappear. It is changed into something else. As a candle burns, it consumes the oxygen and produces water vapour and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air so the first reaction of many learned people in this question is that the heavier carbon dioxide will fall to the bottom of the container therefore leaving the oxygen at the top of the container so the shorter candle goes out first. Initially there is obvious merit in this hypothesis but there is a small twist. The carbon dioxide produced by the candle is much hotter than the surrounding air so it immediately rises to the top of the container. This hot carbon dioxide will stay at the top of the jar long enough that it will starve the taller candle of oxygen before it cools down enough to fall to the bottom of the container. Therefore the taller candle will be extinguished first.

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