Customer Advisory Boards to Drive Internal Alignment

There are many reasons that companies bring together their customers for advisory board sessions, but one of the unspoken ones is to drive internal alignment. And when it comes to gathering support for new or evolving business strategies, business owners often face the time-consuming challenge of building executive alignment. Some of the best strategies don’t see the light of day because

As Peter Drucker said famously many years ago “culture eats strategy for lunch” and we can see this play out as new strategies fail to gain traction due to internal challenges, politics and an inability to build consensus.

Enter Customer Advisory Boards

There are several approaches to build consensus and alignment – from selling each executive on your strategy, to gaining CEO recognition for a top-down push. One way approach that many companies overlook is to use your their customers to drive consensus. In our work with large global companies we see this has great success. One client uses the Customer Advisory Board solely for that purpose. They present their strategies, listen to the customers’ advice, and at the end of the meeting the executive team has a much clearer view on strengths, weaknesses and market acceptance or failure. Building internal consensus when each executive hears the same reactions from the marketplace – your top customers – is easier than creating consensus around third party market data.

Below are three tips on how to design a Board that will help to drive forward strategy alignment, avoid groupthink, and raise new areas of investment and innovation.

  1. Keep your enemies close. Okay, the word “enemies” is too strong, but it is too easy to gain agreement on your strategy from your greatest advocates. The learning comes from hearing from those who are not afraid to say “no,” and who occasionally take their business elsewhere, reflecting the behaviors of the marketplace. These individuals will make your strategy better and will help your internal adversaries see that you are open to all perspectives.
  2. Pick a broad ecosystem of participants. Business models are full of unlikely partnerships that are succeeding. Look to those adjacencies that will expand your marketplace understanding, providing insights that you cannot access within your own company.
  3. Push your colleagues to be open. This is difficult for some cultures, but we’ve found that the best internal alignment comes when the executive team pushes each other to voice their arguments in the presence of the advisory group. This places the counter points on the table and allows for a healthy debate in a broader, non-political context.

As you enter the final months of end-of-year planning and new strategy reviews, think about how you can use your greatest asset – your customers, partners and prospects – to improve your strategies and your internal alignment.

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