< Back to articles

Advisor Insights – Patrick Lilwall, Corporatised Advisory Boards

Patrick Lilwall is a change agent, helping large organisations in the commercial and not for profit sector navigate the changes required to stay relevant, competitive and valuable to their customers.

Patrick’s portfolio includes strategic consulting, advisory and governance. In this Advisor Insights interview with Louise Broekman, Founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Centre, Patrick shares his experience supporting the Executive Team and Governance Board of a large organisation with a coporatised Advisory Board.

 

The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the Advisor ecosystem.

 

 

Establishing the Advisory Board, where predominantly as an Executive, both myself and the CEO still shared and led the Advisory Board sessions, the model of having those external advisors to be able to come in, challenge, bring insights and test for those blind spots and bias points, was great.

We’ve been able to have some good independent advisors who could give perspective to us on how to work through the discernment of some large challenges. – Patrick Lilwall, Certified Chair

 

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

READ THE TRANSCRIPT

Louise Broekman:
Welcome to Advisory Board Insights. I’m here with Patrick Lilwall who is a Certified Chair. Welcome Patrick.

Patrick Lilwall:
Morning Louse, how are you?

Louise Broekman:
Good thank you, really looking forward to having the chat today about Corporatised Advisory Boards, which is an exciting space. But before we do, Patrick, would you like to share a bit about your story?

Patrick Lilwall:
Okay, thanks Louise. Over my career I’ve mainly been a change agent, either internal or external to organisations, predominantly in the corporate and enterprise end of the spectrum. That’s covered mostly the commercial sector, and in the last eight or so years particularly the not-for-profit space, which I found personally very rewarding. I have had a career that’s been military, commercial, consulting, operational roles, and a number of CIO roles over about 10 years doing mostly last mile transformation work.

A couple of years ago I stepped in as my own Executive of a service practice, where I find a balance between practicing, development and advisory. What particularly appealed and resonated with me when I came across the work you and the team were doing in the Advisory Board space, was understanding the insights that can be gained from working with the small to medium business sector can be applied to the enterprise end of town, and visa versa.

The Advisory Board Model has allowed me to continue to achieve that balance. However, I do enjoy moving upstream, which is about strategy and planning rather than downstream, which is the execution and the detail.

Louise Broekman:
It’s quite interesting that you’ve worked in both the Advisory Boards for businesses as well as Corporatised Advisory Boards, which is really an emerging space and you’ve been working in Corporatised Advisory Boards now for a while. Do you want to share a bit about how that has worked?

Patrick Lilwall:
Certainly. About 18 months ago I started engaging into a client space where I was asked to take on defining and leading a transformation program. This was for quite a complex business in a sector that’s under significant change and with a lot of challenges, including balancing the mission of the delivery versus how to manage the margin and bringing that commercial practice into play.

We needed to ensure that there was an interesting dynamic to balance the competence of the board with what was happening at the executive level, then across the organisation. Defining leading transformation was an interesting space to navigate and is one where a lot of the other competences needed to be taken into consideration.

What I recognised pretty quickly was that I felt, to ensure that the principles of transparency, flexibility and being able to really tap into expertise to navigate that space, the Advisory Board model would have been an ideal of way to compliment the board governance and executive governance that we had going at the same time.

Patrick Lilwall:
Establishing the Advisory Board, where predominantly as an Executive, both myself and the CEO still shared and led the Advisory Board sessions, the model of having those external advisors to be able to come in, challenge, bring insights and test for those blind spots and bias points, was great.

It’s really been a good model to help set that up and over the last fourteen months we’ve really worked through their advice. It’s been great because we’ve been able to have some good independent advisors who could give perspective to us on how to work through the discernment of some large challenges. For example, I’m seeking some significant investment from a company that really needs to be quite prudent where it spends its funds and, and how it navigates through the balance of strategy as well as operational impact.

Louise Broekman:
So Patrick, it’s interesting where an Advisory Board is a problem solving model and your road testing ideas, compared to the Governance Board being a decision-making model. How did you navigate the development of where it sits within the whole decision-making framework?

Patrick Lilwall:
We put in place a regular rhythm of governance around defining, first of all, the way we were working through the strategy work. That was a role for the Executive, to work with the Board and testing the balance of the strategy, direction and priorities.

The complexity of that strategy to action phase of how we navigate, what we saw as the key capabilities and solutions that were available in the market – that’s where we really felt there was more risk. The other complexity is how to navigate the implementation, that was particular to change management.

As a result, we decided to set up an Advisory Board. At different stages over the journey of the transformation period, there was going to be challenges and the stages that we would need to grapple with.

Patrick Lilwall:
We ensured that we used quotes and questions that really helped us to find the things we need to test and we tried to predict as much as we could. We then sought Advisory Board members that would meet on a monthly basis as a regular rhythm to help us address those issues. The Advisors need to get context and background, it takes few sessions for them to get the context before they can offer more insight and discernment themselves, around what they challenge and what makes sense.

Louise Broekman:
So, what’s been the impact of the Advisory Board structure? How’s it supported the Board and the Executives?

Patrick Lilwall:
In the early phases of the Advisory Board, it was predominantly the CEO and me meeting with the Advisors. It became really clear that the rest of the Executives would also benefit by having both input and exposure to that conversation.

In the beginning there was a little bit of caution around if this was just going to be another series of conversations. However, it became clear that the value in the conversations was a good way for Executives to come together and galvanize their thinking around, particularly the change management.

For this organisation that spans three sectors within the human services space, it was important to navigate change management. We found that the Advisors were able to give us some good perspective on that and we had to make some pretty challenging decisions along the way. They helped us, as Executives, really think about that decision process. So, the value kept on growing and that was really powerful for us to work through some of those decisions.

Louise Broekman:
Fantastic. What tips would you have for corporate organisations contemplating an Advisory Board structure, whether it’s right for them or not?

Patrick Lilwall:
The key tip I would suggest is ensure you define the purpose of the Advisory Board around some key principles.

Transparency, flexibility and diversity were key principle for us because we didn’t want more people who thought the same way as us, what’s the value in that? We wanted people who could really challenge.

In the sessions, it is key that the Executive does some good preparation about what are the focussing questions that we need input, and we need to test our thinking on. The Executive is trying to make sure the Board also came up with a level of confidence based on what we achieved in the session because ultimately the Board needed to make a lot of these key decisions. We wanted to say, it’s not just ourselves but we have got an Advisory Board that also provides independence of thought.

Another tip is getting the Board involved in nominations for Advisory Board Members. So, if I wanted to have someone on the Board that I felt could bring in some perspective, it helps not only to say that the Executive is providing some decisions but they know there is an independent member that they trust. So that is the second check of independence and trust.

The final tip is to ensure they are prepared to embrace the external challenges. For example, if an Advisory Board member starts to dig into a space and provide feedback, you need to take it onboard, reflect and understand it. As an Executive, sometimes, there is the potential for group think and the galvanized “we’ve got this, don’t you worry, we will drive ahead”. But I was really pleased to see that our Executive embraced that and we got a lot of value out of the process.

Louise Broekman:
That’s great, because it is a cultural shift in the way meetings occur. Governance boards is all about getting consensus, whereas a consensus can be a killer of innovation in an Advisory Board setting so that is quite a different way that conversations happen. Any tips for Advisors sitting on Corporatised Advisory Boards?

Patrick Lilwall:
Similar to the tips that have been provided through some of the other interviews that you’ve been conducting in this space, it is bringing on Advisors who are prepared to put an opinion forward. It should be for the purpose of they don’t want ‘yes’ people coming along.

Having someone who’s prepared to understand the dynamics of their position. Just as small business operators will be in a space where they will have to take things personally, because it’s their business, the Executive also are committed in their journey to take an organisation through change. There are always a lot of complexities that come with this, so Advisors need to take time to recognise what is behind the behaviours and when there is resistance within the Executive, but at the same time not shy away from respectfully putting some thoughts forward about what they see.

There also may be a time when they are no longer the right person for the position, and they need to be willing to put their hand up and say I think my value propositions are now diminishing, there may be others who could add more value. I think it’s that willingness to be upfront makes both a good Advisor and a good Advisory Board.

Louise Broekman:
Patrick, thank you so much for sharing this story and I look forward to hearing more about the ongoing success of this Corporatised Advisory Board.

Patrick Lilwall:
Thanks Louise, and thank you for what you’re doing with the team.

About Author:

Louise Broekman
Louise is an award winning Entrepreneur, researcher and business advisor. Louise has received recognition from Industry and Government at a local and national level for her contribution to the Australian business sector. She is an in-demand speaker and is regularly called upon as the leading voice for Advisory Boards in the Asia Pacific region.