Is Your Facilitation Killing your Customer Advisory Board?

There are many ways that customer advisory Boards fail. They’re complex enterprises. But if yours is struggling—or you’re just getting started and want to avoid the most common pitfall—consider carefully:

Is the person in the facilitator’s chair really ready to…facilitate?  Not run an event. Not serve as MC. Not sit and wait. Really facilitate – make it easier for your executive team board members to dig in and get the information and action they’re looking for.

The Common Mistake: Facilitating a Board as an Event

Many boards fail after the first few meetings because the facilitator:

  • Doesn’t have enough depth in strategy to continually identify and create compelling discussion topics;
  • Is not confident enough to guide—let alone challenge—senior executives; and
  • Is not able to effectively guide each discussion to valuable outcomes.

Why is that? Too often, companies pick an advisory board leader who has experience running events like executive conferences, one-off forums, or small client roundtables.

This is the wrong focal point.

An advisory board is not an event and the content and facilitation need to reflect the difference.

Clients can easily attend events with any vendor they spend money with. They commit to your customer advisory board to:

  • Learn something from their peers;
  • Influence your strategy; and
  • Gain a deeper understanding of what is next for your company.

This level of discussion demands a self-assured leader who:

  • Understands your strategy and that of your clients enough to help make personal and topical connections;
  • Pushes back when content doesn’t align to the goals of the meeting; and
  • Steers each session to a set of tangible outcomes and next steps that both you and your clients will value.

Checklist: The Characteristics of Strong Board Leaders and Facilitators

Consider the following checklist when identifying a board leader / facilitator:

1. Strategy Experience

Is the individual experienced enough to ask difficult questions of your clients at a strategic level rather than product-line level? Can the leader move your teams to execute on the advice received?

2. Objective

Is the leader able to operate objectively to take advice and counsel from all parties and reflect it back without defensiveness?

3. Point of View

Does the leader have a clear view of the most critical areas for discussion and where they want the session to land? Do they know where it may run off the rails and how to course correct?

4. Executive Presence

Does the leader have an executive presence and the confidence to ask difficult questions of senior executives (both internal and external)?

5. Domain Savvy

An effective facilitator doesn’t need deep domain expertise, but awareness and a certain savvy with your general domain definitely helps to develop follow-through actions that will really have impact on your business and that of your clients.

You should leave each meeting with a wealth of insight and actions. If that isn’t your experience, then it is time to find a new leader who can guide you to these outcomes.

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