Last month, I met Marissa Levin, author of the new book Built to Scale - How Top Companies Create Breakthrough Growth Through Exceptional Advisory Boards at the SBA National Small Business Week Conference in Washington, DC. The book is essentially a “how to guide” for understanding, selecting, and leveraging a peer advisory board to help you grow your business. If you’re a CEO, small business owner, or business executive, who may not be familiar with the various available options and benefits, reading Built to Scale is a good place to start. And Marissa knows what she’s talking about. The book is based on years of experience working with a broad range of peer advisory resources to help her grow both personally and professionally.
The book is packed with useful information, but I’d like to spend a few moments on an important question Marissa posed in the opening chapter: “Why Not Hire a Consultant, Instead? Marissa offers a number of answers related primarily to cost and the motivations of consultants versus advisory board members. She also describes consultants as “short-term solutions to specific tasks or projects.” While one could argue that both of these may be true (depending of course on your consultant), I’d like to make three additions to Levin’s narrative. 1) It’s not an either/or decision. Consultants can serve as an essential complement to your peer advisory board. They can and should play different roles. 2) Peer advisory boards, that are professionally facilitated or otherwise skillfully-led, typically help one come to their own conclusions and reach their own decisions. Consultants prescribe while advisory boards invite us to subscribe. The difference is felt in the power of my idea and one’s commitment to its success, versus the power of a consultant’s idea which one is challenged to adopt as their own. It’s a dynamic that too often results in compliance rather than true commitment. Peers advisory boards excel in the subscription business. 3) The best peer advisory boards embody a culture of accountability that one doesn’t typically have with their consultant. The consultant may be accountable to you, but it’s not as likely that you’re as accountable to your consultant (other than for you to be blamed when their prescription didn’t work because you didn’t take the medicine as directed). And since turnabout is fair play, you’ll blame your consultant for giving you bad advice. Hardly the results either of you were seeking.
Leading a company in today’s world has become increasingly complex. Levin’s SCALE model offers a solid introduction to a resource too many business leaders are not utilizing. I’m not prescribing that you all go out and join peer advisory boards, but I’m saying that you should find out what they’re all about. Consult your peers, then YOU make the decision!