Are you ready to build an advisory board?

By Marissa Levin Levin_Marissa

If you’re eager to build an advisory board, great. That desire is definitely essential to your board’s success. But based on my experience, chances are you’re not ready. 

Believe it or not, a lot of groundwork must be laid before you can even begin the process. Basics like a vision, mission, values, target market, products or services, competitive analysis and a strategic plan are all prerequisites, and even if they’ve been constructed, you’ll need to revisit them to make sure they’re up to date. 

It is not the board’s job to create these elements. Instead, these are the components that business owners must include in their board search document to ensure they attract and select the best advisory board members. These are the elements that will be the roadmap for the advisory board’s work and ultimate effectiveness.


Your vision statement should answer the question, “What is our preferred future?” All members of the organization should be able to identify with it, and it should help them feel proud, excited and part of something bigger than themselves. It should project three to five years out.

Consider a couple of examples:

General Electric: “To become the most competitive enterprise in the world by being No. 1 or No. 2 in market share in every business the company is in.”

President John F. Kennedy: Land a man on the moon and safely return him to earth by the end of this decade.


Your mission statement should answer the questions: “What business are we in? What do we do? How do we do it? For whom do we do it?” A mission statement explains the purpose of the organization. It should have four qualities:

     Breadth: Encompassing all of the organization’s services

     • Durability: Setting the organization’s direction for a long period of time

     • Challenge: Explaining the “what” and the “how” of the organization

     • Distinction: Separating your organization from the competition

Some examples:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.: “To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people.”

Apple: “To offer the best possible personal computing technology and to put that technology into the hands of as many people as possible.”


Your values should answer the question: “What do we stand for?” Values encompass the entire organization and system. Whatever the organization does and whatever decisions it makes, it will always be guided by values. Values explain how employees will conduct their activities while carrying out the vision and the mission. They are statements about how the organization will value customers, suppliers and the internal community. Once defined, the values that are important to your organization should be reflected in everything you do.

One of my clients, EGroup, is positioning itself as a world-class engagement agency. Its value system is one of the best I’ve seen:

“At EGroup, our guiding principles propel us toward excellence each day and provide the distinctive EDGE that helps us deliver amazing results for every client.

Effectiveness: We strive for operational excellence — deploying systems, tools and processes to deliver beyond expectations.

Dedication: We’re committed to helping our clients solve their business challenges and optimize their success. We get to know your business, bring our creativity and expertise to the table and collaborate to ensure every product and program is on point and flawlessly executed.

Gratitude: We appreciate our very loyal clients, the strengths of our strategic partners and the talents of our team members. We value and respect the contributions made by all to our mutual success.

Extraordinary: From going the extra mile to making the extra effort, we strive always to deliver impactful programs and exceptional experiences that engage audiences worldwide and delight our clients.”

Vision, mission and values are the three backbones of an organization. They tell the story of the company.

It is not the board’s job to create these elements. These are the elements that will be the roadmap for the advisory board’s work and ultimate effectiveness.

Market positioning

It’s also essential to clearly identify and articulate your target market, products and services, and competitive positioning before implementing a board. Prior to committing to your advisory board, prospective advisers will drill you regarding your market positioning. They will want to know why they should invest their time to support your growth. Having these components clearly identified conveys preparation and focus regarding your market position.

Strategic plan

No matter whether you subscribe to a traditional strategic planning process or to a newer model such as the Lean Startup methodology, it’s important to have a strategic plan prepared before engaging advisory board members. It will be the starting point for all advisory board work, and answers the question, “Where are we going?”

All infrastructures are only as solid as the foundations that support them. Investing the upfront time to fortify these components will yield a strong organization, as well as a strong army of advisers who see your potential and will want to help you meet your growth objectives. CEO

Marissa Levin is chairman of strategic communications firm Information Experts, and CEO of Successful Culture, a consulting firm that helps CEOs build excellent cultures. She is the author of Built to SCALE. Contact us at

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