2021 Reflections: The Year That Was

 

It’s probably the most uttered phrase at this time of year, so forgive me – but really, how is it the end of the year already?! 2021 was an unbelievable year in the advisory world. The adoption of the model has seen the role of advisory boards in business evolve at a fast pace. The shrinking of governance boards has provided advisory boards with a new platform to provide critical thinking, and the extended pandemic period has meant many global businesses have found advisory boards incredibly useful in managing expansion, crisis, transformation and creative problem-solving. Diversity remains at the core of the advisory sector and is ultimately its greatest strength.

Looking back on the year, I shared a range of articles on research findings and advocacy work undertaken by the Advisory Board Centre, my personal observations of the market, as well trends and major developments that we have seen within the advisory community. As I reflect on the year that has been, I’ve compiled a recap of sorts piecing together 2021 in the advisory world…

I looked at what I like to call the 4C’s (COVID, Climate, Corporate Social Responsibility and Changing consumer behaviour), and how to address the economic, political, and social risks they present. I shared that recognition of complexity is simply not enough. In 2021 consumers, employees and the wider market have looked to directors and business leaders for confident and decisive action.

We can no longer rely on simply striking the balance between “analysis paralysis” and “gut instinct” – critical thinking and sound decision-making frameworks are the foundation that gives strength to navigate complexity and uncertainty. I still stand by this, and best practice advisory boards are the way to get there.

Continuing the theme of business life as we live with and look beyond the pandemic, I considered supporting good governance in the “new normal.” We are now witnessing a stark contrast between those organisations that have truly adapted and taken confident action in the face of uncertainty and those that have not.

Creating foundations for knowledge takes time to build, and so in April, the Advisory Board Centre formalised and launched the Global Research Council. Taking an unbiased validation approach to the study of the role of advisory boards, the Council examines what works and what does not to determine opportunities and limitations. The first move under this initiative was to establish a Best Practice & Ethics Advisory Board, to oversee the ongoing development of the ABF101: Advisory Board Best Practice Framework™ and ethics guidelines for the advisory board community. This framework is downloaded by hundreds of leaders across the globe every week as we lead the charge in providing best practice standards in an unregulated sector.

In May, we were thrilled to release the 2021 State of the Market Global Report. Two years of continual research from the Global Research Council tracking Advisory Board usage, participation by professionals and impacts for organisations…it was a true labour of love. The report provides an unbiased view of advisory boards to organisations, professional advisors that are engaged in the sector, and the wider support eco-system.

Growth remains the most common strategic priority for organisations seeking an advisory board, however, the methods for sustainable growth have changed. This piece revealed some of the most ground-breaking data that we have ever seen when it comes to the maturing of the sector.

 

As the year progressed, and the pandemic waged on, I was hearing so many stories of the difficulties faced by expats given border closures, economic shifts and a general uneasiness given how easily things could change overnight. Was the expat dream finally over? In its current form – yes, but the opportunity for these worldly professionals is only just beginning. No matter the country of expatriation, business professionals moving home offer cultural and economic climate knowledge that cannot be learned otherwise. Leveraging this mindset in the structure an advisory board provides, fresh ideas and perspectives from around the world can be utilised to formulate initiatives and solutions for success at home and overseas. Businesses must take advantage of this unique point in time and harness the opportunity to have a global mindset as part of their local think tank. I believe 2022 will hold even more opportunities for these talented individuals who have deep-rooted knowledge of some of the most complex markets in the world. We are lucky enough to have several of them as part of our community across Singapore, Hong Kong, Mainland China and beyond.

In August, the focus was on business confidence, a significant section from the 2021 State of the Market Report. In our research, we had found that 90% of businesses see a 30% improvement in business confidence after implementing their Advisory Board. 30% is a big deal, and frankly, as a founder and CEO, I view that as 30% more sleep at night! So, what does such an improvement in confidence mean? For most owners, the businesses’ ability to operate without them is a primary need. For others, it could indicate better return and satisfaction with their business overall.

In August I also queried what does good governance look like, and how can it be utilised as a driver for growth? By taking a proactive approach to self-regulation, certification and professional development, the Advisory Board Centre is supporting all stakeholders from government, directors, business leaders and industry to have a clear benchmark of what good looks like. This is where the ambitions and aspirations of business owners to build quality organisations are being matched by the motivations of advisory professionals to deliver value and impact.

September our attention turned to Personal Indemnity insurance coverage for advisors with an advocacy piece to the insurance industry to recognise the role advisory boards play in improving problem-solving capability, let alone the reduced risk for organisations and directors in their decision-making. We are making headway on this journey – watch this space.

Early October, EY forecast that by 2030, advisory boards would be heavily prevalent in governance ecosystems. Well, the good news for us is that this is already happening today! Our research for the State of the Market report highlighted two major factors corroborating that significant activity is already taking place within the advisory board sector: an increase of more than 52% of Advisory Boards globally in just two years; and the increased utilisation of corporatised advisory boards. We’re not sleeping on that!

We’re nearly there!

Advising with authenticity was a major focus as we entered the last quarter of the year. The age-old adage of “fake it till you make it” just doesn’t work anymore (did it ever?) – false confidence does not breed true confidence, and most importantly competence. Let alone the risk of losing credibility and sabotaging personal success. Whether we are Chairs, advisors, members of a board – we don’t just have a responsibility, we have a responsibility to do it well. My message was, and still is – be authentically you.

My most recent penned thoughts forced a perspective on the idea of “better boards, not bigger”. A Financial Times report revealed that governance boards are reducing in size, making way for a growing movement of advisory boards supporting smaller governance boards with critical thinking and problem solving to support directors in their decision-making process.

On a business level, we reached many significant goals in our global advisory community with a few firsts. June saw us finally able to hold the Certified Chair™ Executive Program in Shanghai, signifying our continued growth across Asia. We also celebrate that we had the pleasure of training Certified Chairs™ from every corner of the globe, as we look to empower leading board members to deliver best practice and make advisory boards more impactful.

And that’s a wrap for what happened in the advisory sector in 2021. Thank you for tuning in every month as I pondered my thoughts on the current state of things.

Last but not least.

In what was another year of ups and downs, I want to genuinely thank you for your support – not only of myself but for the advisory community at large. It’s been such a pleasure to engage and learn from you all. May 2022 bring us many more opportunities to do great, impactful work – together, and in your own avenues!

I also want to extend deep gratitude to my team, who are both talented and a whole lot of fun! I don’t know what the year ahead will hold when it comes to the pandemic, but I can assure you that personally, and as a business, we will be pushing boundaries. We have some exciting milestones on the horizon, and for the things that we can control, they will be bold. That’s for sure.

‘Til then.