Why I feel like a Goose
I’ve been a Family Business Solutionist for many years – acting as a best practice adviser, mediator, and strategic problem-solver. Generally, and despite the complexity and unpredictability baked into the family business sector, we’ve achieved good outcomes.
BUT, when engagements last longer than expected, and morph into something quite different, I often feel I’m crossing a line that separates what I was initially engaged to do,
from what I’m now being asked to do.
Although my engagement letters anticipate diversions, there’s a disconnect. Both I and my clients clearly think we understand where we’re going, but I sense we all feel a bit less sure. The problem? Our mindsets haven’t synced to the new reality, mutual expectations are chained to past engagements, and at the big picture level we’re effectively stuck in conventional “Adviser-Land”.
Why does this make me feel like a goose? Because, over many years, I’ve failed to fully appreciate that “Advisers ain’t Advisers” – in ways that really matter. Let me explain:
- Most advisory engagements are designed and costed to deliver defined outcomes – by performing specific tasks, using expert skills.
- Ongoing engagements tend to be less clearly defined and more open-ended. They work on long-term retainers, rather than fees-for-service.
- After proving yourself competent and trustworthy on an initial engagement, you find yourself valued more for your knowledge and empathic understanding of the client’s circumstances and needs, and for your demonstrated wisdom, experience, and judgement, than for expert skills – even though you also need to keep using those skills, often in somewhat innovative ways.
- You develop a more intimate working relationship with the business owner/leader than they’ve enjoyed with most people, for a long time. You become more mentor than adviser – helping them become more comfortable in their own skin by supporting their efforts to grow and modernise the business; upgrade HR functions; change culture; establish independent governance structures and systems; and plan succession and leadership transition (to name a few). You lighten their load by sharing
it, intellectually and emotionally, and (on request) with practical help.
My epiphany: realising that’s NOT an Adviser role. I’ve morphed into a one-person Advisory Board, which I call “Sounding Board” to: (a) better describe what I’m really doing and, (b) enable an appropriate value to be attributed to my work. This fundamentally different engagement delivers “Significant Advice”, rather than technical solutions.
To avoid feeling like a goose, this new engagement requires a different mindset, different expectations, changed relationship dynamics, and new fee arrangements that deliver much better returns on actual time spent, because the nature, style, quality, depth, and value of your services are now operating on wholly different level.
“Advisory Board” describes both a flexible concept and a tangible form of that concept.
Concept: “significant challenges” should be addressed by “Significant Advice”.
Individuals, families, and businesses face “significant challenges” when:
- Issues are complex and,
- Actual or potential consequences are profound and,
- Solutions are beyond current levels of skill, experience, and/or bandwidth and,
- Increasingly, challenges arising are “beyond scope” for traditional advisers.
Form: Advisory Boards are strategic problem-solving, face-to-face and/or virtual forums, where “significant” challenges are raised, solutions are developed, critical decisions are made, and new ideas and opportunities can be introduced and refined.
Advisory Boards should counsel, advise, guide, and facilitate, rather than undertake work, although board members are often initially engaged for their specific expertise (eg: resolve family conflict, or develop and implement a succession plan).
Board member(s) may be invited to help leaders deal with a range of other challenges. By not being involved in technical solutions, they’re better able to think and act objectively and strategically although, given the nature and needs of business families, this isn’t always possible – high levels of trust usually trump any desires for objectivity.
Advisory Boards often collaborate with external networks of trustworthy advisers – calling on reliable colleagues to undertake sensitive and specialised tasks (eg: psychological support for troubled family members and undertaking complex HR projects).
There are over 600,000 active Advisory Boards operating in 2022. Most are in the USA.
Successful individuals, groups, businesses, and organisations come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, relationship dynamics, and lifecycle stages. They all have unique needs, which tend to get more complicated with increases in age, size, and success. When their significant personal, family, and/or business needs aren’t being met by conventional advisers, they need Significant Advice, provided by Significant Advisers, who constitute an Advisory Board.
Significant Advice is generated by broad strategic thinking and proactive enquiry, using information gained through high touch, high trust, proactive relationships. It generates profound results, ranging from intensely personal, to highly strategic.
Significant Advice is courageous: leaders and Boards hear what they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear. Issues that need to be raised and resolved, get resolved.
Significant Advice has a high care factor. It “has the backs” of individual, family, and business recipients. It also makes things “less lonely at the top”.
Types of Advisory Board
- Sounding Board (for individuals) – usually a single adviser, acting as mentor, coach, facilitator, and strategic problem-solver. Like a “professional friend in need”.
- Family Advisory Board (for families) – one or two advisers work with a Family Council, or Family Board, as mentor, coach, best practice adviser, meeting facilitator, and strategic problem-solver.The role is part expert governance / business adviser, and part “wise old Uncle Bob / Auntie Grace” – the guy or girl everyone in the family respects and listens to. Key responsibilities include maintaining focus, thinking, and decision-making on family stuff, when in family-mode, and on business stuff, if/when in business-mode.
- Business Advisory Board (for family businesses) – one or two advisers work with a Business Board as mentor, coach, independent governance adviser/appraiser, meeting facilitator, and strategic problem-solver.The role is mainly business-focussed, with an appreciation of what family owners need and expect from their business(es). It’s also more like a conventional director’s role, with additional responsibilities for maintaining the focus of family board members on business thinking and decision-making, in preference to the family issues that should be addressed in a wholly different (Family Council) environment
Types of Boards used by Business Families and Family Businesses
|1. Family Council||Family
(Family issues only)
|One or two.||
|2. Family Board||Family & Family Business
(Family & Business issues)Assumes same people have dual AND separate roles:(1) Family(2) Family Business
|One or two.||
(Covers Family & Business needs)
|3. Business Board||Family Business
(Business issues only)
|One or two.||
Types of Advisory Board used by Individuals, Business Families and Family Businesses
|1. Sounding Board (for Individuals)||Successful Individuals / Entrepreneurs||One.||
|2. Advisory Board (for Family & Business)||Business Families (shared business interests and/or investments)||One or two.||
Family Board (Family issues).
Business Board (Business issues
|3. Advisory Board (for Business)
May also work with Family
|Family Business (families with operating business(es).
Any other Business.
|One or two.||
||Family Board (Business issues).