The value of peer-to-peer advisory boards to business leaders

Source: press release, 26 November 2020

Helen Mill, a TAB facilitator Aberdeen East and a former director of commercial innovation at Robert Gordon University
Helen Mill, a TAB facilitator Aberdeen East and a former director of commercial innovation at Robert Gordon University (photo: TAB)

The COVID-19 crisis has served to magnify one of the defining features of modern-day business leadership: occupying senior roles can be a lonely experience.

That’s the view of Helen Mill, a facilitator with business support organisation The Alternative Board (TAB), as the global pandemic continues to pose stern challenges for many executives looking to protect their enterprises.

Mill says, “Multiple issues can shape the pressures that strategic decision-makers face, and COVID-19 has added a whole new dimension to those. The concept of ‘loneliness of command’ has long been recognised within the business world – and many individuals thrive in leading the drive for growth and success – but the pandemic restrictions have brought entirely new challenges into play.”

“Sharing the experiences and lessons of dealing with a crisis that has taken the global business community into unchartered territory can, we believe, only be beneficial for leaders,” she continues.

Mill, TAB facilitator Aberdeen East and a former director of commercial innovation at Robert Gordon University, says its network of boards has provided a welcome platform for executives to engage throughout the COVID-19 restrictions.

She adds, “TAB’s status as a peer-to-peer advisory and business networking platform for business leaders means it’s uniquely equipped to support and facilitate engagement – not just on pandemic-related matters, of course, but on issues across the spectrum of business activity. Every business owner has specific strengths and weaknesses – and even a Jack of all trades could benefit from more in-depth assistance in certain areas. You may be excellent at keeping your business on track financially and finding inefficiencies but be less adept at communicating with your employees or developing a marketing strategy.”

“Each member of a peer advisory board will come with a different unique set of strengths and experiences, tried and tested in the real world. This makes a board a powerful tool for business owners to help fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge and grow their own capabilities in other areas. An added bonus is that, whereas many business owners find it difficult to admit vulnerability or knowledge gaps to others, a peer advisory board is designed as a safe space where you can assess your strengths and grow professionally as well as personally,” Mill says.

“Most people join advisory boards because they understand its value in terms of the profitability of their business. However, the non-commercial value of membership can often be every bit as important, particularly at a time of acute challenges. We have seen business owners significantly improve their quality of life and work-life balance – and even learn how to avoid burnout – through a forum where the insights, advice and counsel of peers can make a difference beyond strictly business parameters,” she explains. “When you’re close to your business, it can be difficult to see issues or opportunities that might be glaringly obvious to someone else. Cultivating a group of unbiased observers is an excellent way to expand your perspective.”

TAB in Scotland was proactive from the outset of the COVID-19 restrictions by having a personalised approach with their members to provide them with additional one-to-one support, as well as topic specific round tables across Scotland.

As one of our members says, “Anyone running a business will tell you that it can sometimes be a lonely experience, and the past few months will have exacerbated that sense of isolation for many. I’m sure many business leaders, myself included, have worried about loss of customers – and are they going to return? How do we pay for everything in the meantime? That’s where TAB has come into its own: it’s been invaluable for people like me addressing tough challenges. It’s represented a real source of comfort; a safety net.”

TAB now has seven boards – four in the north-east and three in the Glasgow area – and each comprises up to eight business owners, directors or decision makers at larger companies. The boards provide a trusted space for experienced entrepreneurs to openly address challenges. A new board is expected to come on stream in Edinburgh by the end of the year.

Members, who pay a monthly subscription, share experience and knowledge at monthly meetings hosted by a TAB facilitator who also provides one-to-one support. Additional management resources are also available, as is access to a worldwide network of business owners and leaders.

Scottish TAB boards cover a broad range of sectors including oil and gas, engineering, finance, manufacturing, health, software, retail, transport, retail and marketing.

The Alternative Board started nearly 30 years ago in the United States. There are TAB boards across 20 countries, with 80 in the UK in total.

Business leaders will have the opportunity to understand how The Alternative Board peer-to-peer model works through an online taster event that is being held on Thursday, December 3 (2020) at 9.30 am and Thursday, January 28 (2021) at 3 pm.