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Advisor Insights with Sandra Poon: Strategic Extraordinaire

With over 23 years of experience in senior management and consulting, it’s no wonder Certified Chair™ Sandra Poon has developed a “secret superpower” of having the coveted ability to understand an organisation’s landscape quickly and identify ways to make it better. As a strategy advisor, transformation specialist and experienced facilitator, Sandra is passionate about sharing her experience having worked with large corporations right through to start-ups in strategy design, implementation and operations.

 

Sandra enjoys being both Chair and advisor for their different attributes, with the role of the Chair providing her with the confidence to put in place a best practice structure; compared to as an advisor where she is able to provide her expertise and insight without having to be responsible for the direction of the advisory board.

 

Keeping current is one of the most important aspects of a best practice advisor. As Sandra puts it, it’s about knowing your “yardstick” and comparing it against your network. “If someone were to give me advice on something that happened five years ago, would I listen to it and would I feel like it’s not relevant anymore?” To avoid becoming an “echo chamber,” Sandra continually checks in with her network, thus validating internally and also externally.

 

In this Advisor Insights interview, Sandra shares sage advice on the fact that understanding when to provide insight (and when to stop) is a “constant learning and self-evaluation process”. Developing personal strengths and opportunities allows advisors to “give the right advice that’s valued at the time they need it” and not overwhelm at the wrong time. Sandra believes there is an art to recognising what a business needs, which can only be developed through experience on boards.

 

If you are self-aware enough of what you can and can’t do and reflect on what’s possible for the business end and the client, then I think you become a bit more attuned to meeting them with what they need than what you think.

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

 

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Louise Broekman: I’m here with certified chair, Sandra today to talk about her insights into the market. Welcome, Sandra.

Sandra Poon: Good to be here.

Louise Broekman: Great to have you. So, Sandra, I’ve known you now for many years as a Chair on advisory boards, and you’ve got a great reputation in the market for it. Do you mind just sharing a bit about your background and that experience?

Sandra Poon: I’ve probably about 20 years of experience in and around the consulting space. So I’ve got a background originally as a business analyst and a project manager. So I did a lot of work in that space around creating projects, managing programs, portfolios, et cetera, in the technology space. And then I moved more to business improvement and process improvement. So I did a bit of work in the lean Six Sigma side of things. And then later on in my career, moved to the strategy space for corporate strategy, organisational strategy and sort of big-scale transformation. I think I counted last that I’ve probably helped about 60 plus businesses where I’ve really dived into how their business works, their strategy and structure. So, I’ve been ‘around the traps’, I guess that’s the way to say it!

Louise Broekman: And tell me a bit about your advisory ward portfolio. Not the specifics, but you know, that you’ve worked in both business advisory boards as well as project advisory boards.

Sandra Poon: That’s right. Yes. So being in the management consulting space, I guess I’ve been in the advisory space for a long time as well. With most experience on specific advisory boards I’ve been in small ones and large ones, so startup businesses, tech businesses, manufacturing, financial services. So in a range of those kinds of businesses – some of those I’ve been a chair, and some of those I’ve been an advisor, and I’ve also been in advisory roles for a range of businesses as well.

Louise Broekman: That’s interesting. Do you have some insights into the differences in those roles given that you’ve been sitting in different seats around the table?

Sandra Poon: It is interesting. The control freak in me loves the work of being a chair and having that really nice structure of how you engage and give advice and be very clear about what those intents are. But I also love that side of coming in as an advisor, purely with the expertise that I have, just being able to share that insight and not have to direct traffic and think about all those things as well. So there are differences in doing that and also being as an individual advisor, just being an independent voice. And I tread very, very carefully when I’m in that space as an advisor to say: I am a voice, I have expertise in these areas, but this is what my opinion is on these things. So they’re quite different. I find, and I do have to think carefully about how I interact with the businesses when I’m wearing each of those hats.

Louise Broekman: So being an advisor in multiple jurisdictions, it’s an art and a science. So what do you see are the common skills that you apply to the role of an advisor, irrespective of the environment that you’re in?

Sandra Poon: I guess a couple of the key things that I think of is understanding the business that you’re dealing with. You can give advice about lots of things, and I’m sure that in the audience we’ve got lots of people who’ve got years of experience in lots of different businesses and you feel like you can give advice, but when you can’t – when it’s not your sweet spot, it’s not your critical area of expertise, you would think carefully about how to do that. So, being careful in that space is pretty important. Being able to know the businesses and other ones, so how well do you know what that business is? You know, its structure, its strategy, what are the things around it that are around how it wants to grow the industry sector that it’s in. Knowing those things is really important and understanding that and then being able to give the right advice that’s valued at the time they need it. I’ve also learned that I’ve often given too much advice too early on and gone, “Oh, you could solve all of these things.” And it’s just literally too much for the business to handle at that time. And being able to rate what they need at the time that they needed is also a challenge. So there’s definitely an art in that too.

Louise Broekman: Yes, because you got to meet them where they are, don’t you, it’s not about what you know, it’s about what they know and what they’re willing to know.

Sandra Poon: Yeah. And that’s a really interesting comment because, you know, I think I was guilty of that years ago when I was first consulting. It’s like, I want to tell you as much as I know and how much I can help you, when the other way around it’s as you develop that experience in that the subtleties around what’s required in meeting them where they are. It’s really important because sometimes they just won’t hear it and that value gets lost.

Louise Broekman: How do you stop yourself from going over that mark Sandra?

Sandra Poon: Gosh, sometimes I probably don’t, some of my clients probably say that! But it’s constant learning and a self-evaluation process. If you are self-aware enough of what you can and can’t do and reflect on what’s possible for the business end and the client, then I think you become a bit more attuned to meeting them with what they need than what you think, which is a subtle difference, I guess.

Louise Broekman: We just recently re-released the code of ethics for the Advisory Board Center community. And I guess it’s interesting understanding that the ethics of providing advice around the boundaries of when you should and when you shouldn’t be providing advice. We talk about the currency of being current in providing advice and your direct experience in the last five years. Do you have any signposts for yourself about where your ethical boundaries are?

Sandra Poon: I do, currency advice is really important. I use that actually as my own yardstick and I remember, when that was first related, it was a very good indicator for me to go, do I have current enough experience in some of the areas I have inside, if I haven’t done anything in two years, then it’s not current anymore, and I know it. So my, my yardstick, I guess, is it going if someone were to give me advice on something that happened five years ago, would I listen to it and would I feel like it’s not relevant anymore? So I’m constantly checking that. And I also validate with others as well. In our professional networks, there are people that are similar to me and do what I do. I talked to old clients and other colleagues and I’m checking more thinking as well. So while I don’t want to be in an echo chamber or think that my advice is current or right, I make sure that I am actually validating internally and also externally.

Louise Broekman: Very good. Sandra, you’re a big contributor to the advisory board community. And I really thank you for everything that you’ve been doing as a community chair for the Queensland advisory board community for 2021. So thank you for doing that and look forward to seeing your good work, continue to make an impact on others.

Sandra Poon: Oh, you’re very welcome. Looking forward to it.

 

Published: 09 November 2021

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Advisor Concierge
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