Why no stock options?”
“I can’t make the next meeting. I have a meeting.”
“Are any of these sandwiches smoked meat?”
When I set up an advisory board for Nimbus Co. earlier this year (read it here), I was looking for experienced people to guide me through tough decisions. I braced myself for a flood of tough questions-but not these.
“Can you send a car to pick me up?” “Do you have a summer job for my niece?” “Where’s the Dijon?”
So far, our advisory board has been as useful as a fire drill in hell. I blame myself. I gathered a group of achievement-oriented individuals, not team players. They have nothing in common, they don’t understand my company and they spend more time showing each other up than showing me how.
Last week I met with Kernel, my excitable young vice-president, to discuss how to make the board more effective. “So far,” he said, “the best advice they’ve had was for Wanda to buy cheap ads on digital TV.” “We got a good rate,” I agreed. “But do you think anyone’s watching the King of Kensington Channel at 3 a.m.?”
We conceded that Daily O’Dea, the retired manufacturer of fuzzy dice, was starting to show interest in something other than her honorarium cheque. But we feared business coach Labrador Coates was more keen on collecting material for his next book than helping us solve problems. Sherry Glaze, who owns the local Mikita’s Donuts outlets, mainly wants to chair the board. And she has yet to bring any of those new maple-bacon crullers to our meetings.
“Maybe you should just admit failure,” said Kernel. “Fire their ifs, ands and butts.” “The whole town would know I’m an idiot,” I said. “I’d rather keep that just between us.”
“Well, if these advisors are so smart, let’s ask them what to do,” said Kernel. When I looked dubious, he patted me on the arm and said, “Don’t worry, I have your back.”
The next morning, our advisory board started advising me on how they would like to advise me (and you think you have too many meetings). “If I were in your shoes, Columbus, I would solicit our opinions more frequently,” said Daily. “If I’m not in, you can just leave your dilemma with my assistant.”
“I’d like more current and historical data,” said Labrador. “You could give us the monthly financials. And I believe we should have the password to your intranet, too.” (I knew it! Now he’s writing a book on us!)
“Don’t tell me you actually read those things,” said Sherry. “Numbers are so dull.” “You don’t read your own P&Ls?” asked Labrador. “Honey,” she said, “in my business, it’s not the numbers; it’s the dough.”
“But control and delegation are one,” argued Daily. “We have to know our ratios. But then we must look ahead, not behind. When I started my company¦”
As she droned on, I thought how funny this all was. When I hire a shipping clerk, I check references. With a new customer, I check credit. But when I hired an advisory board, I went with the first three people who said yes. I’ve been in business longer than Avril Lavigne has been scowling, but I still wonder when I’ll learn to do things right.
Maybe it was time to end this farce. But did I have the guts to admit my failure? Or
should I just impose term limits?
I was so busy watching my advisors argue that I didn’t see Kernel punch a number into his phone. Suddenly, the fire alarm went off. As I was directing people out of the building, I saw my advisors jump into their cars and drive away. I felt strangely relieved. But then I spied Kernel’s phone and realized our deliverance was no act of God.
“I don’t know how you did it,” I said as we waited for the fire trucks. “But, somehow…” “I was sitting there the whole time,” Kernel protested. “A false alarm is a crime,” I reminded him. “Not this time,” said Kernel. “This morning Wanda called her old flame, the fire chief, to say we might be holding a fire drill. We can go inside now.”
The board meeting had broken up before we could set a date for our next session, so I’m leaving things up in the air for now. I still believe in advisory boards. But there are lots of other people to learn from, too-including the friends who watch our backs.