ADVISORY BOARDS: FIVE ROLES THAT CAN TURBO CHARGE A GROWING ORGANISATION

“Would love to have you join us as an advisor” Every time I hear this, I respond with the same question. “What role do you want the advisor to play, and I can tell you whether I am the right fit.”

Building an advisory board is tough. First, you need to get the right advisors. Second, you need to provide value to the advisors in addition to deriving value from them. Most important however is the clarity on what is the role you want the advisor to play in your growth journey.

I have worked as an advisor with entrepreneurs from multiple countries – Kenya, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Pakistan, who are building amazing impactful organizations, both in the for-profit and non-profit sector. I find myself playing one of five roles, irrespective of geography or stage of the organization. And I organize them in an easy to remember acronym – BOARD (Surprise!)

BS Detector:

The best advisory role I find myself playing is to hold founders accountable for their vision. To ensure that they do not stray from what they originally set out to do.

Oftentimes, things look shiny from the outside and there may be attractive opportunities to digress. But it’s at times like these when an advisor is crucial to ensure that you are staying in path. And they do this by asking the right questions, again and again. Questions such as “Is this aligned to your mission/ vision?” “Does this resonate with your value system?”. While your tactics might change, the larger ethos of the business must remain intact and that’s the role of a “BS detector”.

Operator:

Irrespective of which sector you operate in, having an advisor who has already gone through the phases you have gone through or will go through, is worth its weight in gold.

When we were building Vaatsalya Hospitals, we had Vipul Parekh and VS Sudhakar as our advisors. Their experience of having scaled Fabmall was tremendously useful for us – even though that was in retail while we were in healthcare. Nonetheless, they had gone through the same issues of hiring, franchisee management, growth pains etc.

I work today with organizations that span public health, education, emergency response and technology, but the fundamental blocks of growth remain the same – finding product-market fit, hiring key employees, scaling sustainably, and building leadership skills.

Agony Aunt/Uncle:

One of my favorite sayings in business is “You have not realized what entrepreneurship is, unless you have missed one payroll and have had to explain to your employees why you won’t be able to pay them this month.”

There are going to be tremendously difficult situations during the journey – downsizing, legal issues, co-founder issues, hiring pains, investor management, competition become unicorn etc. Having someone to talk to, who can help clarify your thoughts and be there during these tough times is critical. Anyone can guide a ship in calm waters, the real test is who is on deck with you when the storm hits.

Resource Connector/Evaluator:

As a growing organization, you are always looking for people – employees, consultants, lawyers and so on. When you need someone trust worthy, leveraging the advisory board is the best thing to do. They probably know someone who has worked with them or worked with other companies and have good reputation.

I think one of the most rewarding aspects of receiving regular updates from organizations I am advising is this is specific ask from founders – “This is the issue; do you have someone who can help us?”

Domain Expert:

This one is a no brainer. Most people approach advisory board members for this. Domain expertise is important in specialized fields such as healthcare and finance, to have someone who has a sense of where the industry is going, what are the trends to look out for etc.

But it is important to find the right domain expert to be part of the advisory group. I believe that experts who are open to new ideas and are constantly learning new things are a better choice than grey hairs. Things change so rapidly in any space that prior track record is no guarantee of future success. The best domain experts in my experience have been people who have spent multiple years in a field, built a body of knowledge, but have also failed at some things.

So, when you are looking to build an advisory board, these five roles might be useful to keep in mind. Many a times, the same person might play multiple roles.

What you definitely DO NOT want on your advisory board are “update takers” – people who only look for regular updates and critique the past performance. If you are not getting direction for the future, its time to reevaluate your advisory board.

Dr Ashwin Naik

  • Healthcare Entrepreneur | Author

Ashwin Naik is an author and award-winning entrepreneur. He is widely regarded as the go-to expert on Healthcare Innovation, Scaling Impact and Wellbeing at Work.

As an entrepreneur, he has started multiple organisations including Manah Wellness (preventive mental health for employees), Let’s Talk (helpline for mental health support during COVID19), Vaatsalya (India’s first network of rural hospitals), Seraniti (India’s first integrated mental health organization, acquired by Curefit) and We Scale Impact (a global health consulting organisation).

He is the author of two books – The Healthcare Gamechangers, which profiles innovations around the world which have the potential to change the way healthcare is delivered, and #ChangeStartsYoung, a book about young changemakers who are starting as early as 11 years young.

As an advisor, he supports various for-profit and non-profit organisations like Biddano, Briota, Wish Foundation, Arogya World, Nourishing Schools Foundation, Global Dignity India and Apolitical Global.

Ashwin is an Ashoka Fellow as well as a TED Fellow and a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

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