Outside Perspective: The Benefits Of Using An Outside Advisory Board

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While leaders often encourage their teams to “think outside the box” to come up with new ideas and unique ways of looking at problems, it can be difficult to truly bring an outsider perspective to an issue from the inside.

Those who have been with an organization for a long time can have an especially hard time trying to take positions that might contradict the way things have always been done. Newer staff members, meanwhile, may not have the confidence or feel they have the standing to come in and offer fresh takes right off the bat.

One way that firms can counteract this potential stagnation and lack of differing perspectives is to employ an outside advisory board to weigh in on everything from new growth ideas and acquisition opportunities to employee development and culture. This was the road that Miamisburg, Ohio-based Brixey & Meyer (B&M) decided to go down more than 15 years ago.

“We wanted to get an outside perspective to challenge and help us think differently to grow the firm,” says MP Doug Meyer. “We were looking for experience and wisdom that was unique to what we had internally.”

B&M’s outside board includes an entrepreneur who is focused on the execution and operations of growth-oriented businesses, a CEO of a large organization with a strategic focus on customer mix, and an individual who is focused on business development in various organizations. Meyer says over the years the group has weighed in on issues such as the firm’s go-to-market strategy, its strategic plan, new and expanded service lines, the composition of an internal leadership team, its M&A strategy and employee benefits.

“Board members who are not part of our day-to-day who can challenge our current strategy and approach help drive value to our organization,” he explains. “The firm would not have seen the same results without an outside advisory board. They have driven us to think differently and challenge us. They push us to go outside our comfort zone and that’s a big reason why we’ve grown.”

Another IPA Best of the Best firm that saw similar benefits is Louisville, Ky.-based MCM CPAs and Advisors. MP Brad Smith says MCM stopped using an outside advisory board several years ago as the firm expanded and found it increasing difficult to put together an effective group across the larger regional footprint. However, he believes the group’s feedback certainly helped contribute to that growth trajectory.

“The advisory board brought candid and constructive discussions from a variety of outside perspectives to a number of strategic discussion topics,” Smith says, noting that MCM’s outside board helped advise on issues including growth plans, market differentiation and team development. “The independent viewpoints added a positive impact to those discussions and the decisions we ultimately reached.”

Despite the potential benefits, both firms are among the minority using (or having used) outside advisory boards, according to IPA data. In the most recent survey, only 7% of all non-Big 4 firms reported using an outside advisory board, although the numbers were higher among firms in two revenue categories:  $75 million to $150 million (20%) and $50 million to $75 million (16%).

Nevertheless, both Meyer and Smith say it’s something more firms should consider if they really value the notion of thinking outside the box. But Meyer says it does require a commitment and an openness that not every firm is ready to embrace.

“You must be willing to be uncomfortable and exposed because the board will challenge you, and an effective board will point out where you’re limiting growth opportunities and your blind spots,” he says, noting that just the preparation and accountability involved with an outside advisory board has helped drive value while bringing greater clarity to B&M. “Fortunately, the response here has been very positive and appreciated by our team. We value the wisdom and perspective of the board members, and we’ve always received their feedback with open arms.”

Smith agrees with this notion, adding that it’s one thing for a firm to say it wants new ideas and honest feedback, but quite another to actually listen to those things and put them into action when they’re offered.

“You need to have an open mind to outside perspectives or you’re just wasting the time of everyone involved.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2021 edition of INSIDE Public Accounting. To subscribe to INSIDE Public Accounting Monthly click here.


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