Advisor Insights with Sonya Beyers: Governance Specialist

Advisor Insights

Published 21 September 2021

Imagine how much further you could drive your organisation if leadership roles were clearly delineated and both board and executive suite played an active role, yet stayed aligned to a common goal…This is governance through a new lens.

As Director of her company Governance by Design, the last six years have seen Sonya Beyers develop bespoke governance solutions from the ground up – consulting, engaging stakeholders, facilitating and co-creating a governance framework for which businesses take full ownership. With the mantra that it is far better to influence than direct, and listen to understand, rather than respond, Sonya has helped organisations to push against the trend, learn collaboratively and implement a measurable governance process.

One look at Sonya Beyers LinkedIn and you would be forgiven for thinking how does she do it all?! Director, Advisor, Consultant, Facilitator, Non-Executive Director…the list goes on. Sonya does it all, and very well might we add, and still has time to have a chat with Louise Broekman for our Advisor Insights series.

In this interview, Sonya shares how from her experience in driving leadership from the boardroom, and through the benefit of serving on several boards herself, she is able to look at things a little bit differently, recognising the most effective ways to make decisions and how group dynamics can impact that. She also understands how the distinction between Advisory and governance boards is especially important when contributing as a director. Having contributed in both capacities (Advisory and governance), Sonya can see where Advisory Board dynamics can influence and impact a business’s success, just as governance or performance boards do.

Sonya believes there is always a point in time where best practice can take an Advisory Board to the next level to work better and more effectively with the business. Reflecting on a quote she heard taking part in the Certified Chair Executive Program™: ‘we road test with our Advisory Board, we make decisions with our governance or performance board’.

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: Welcome to the Advisor Insights series. My name is Louise Broekman, I’m the founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Center, and I’m with Certified Chair™ and valued member of the Advisory Board Center community, Sonya Beyers. Welcome Sonya!

Sonya Beyers: Thank you, Louise. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here to speak with you.

Louise Broekman: So Sonya, we’re here to discuss your insights into the Advisory Board sector to start with, you’re sitting on both Advisory Boards and governance boards. Do you want to share a bit about that?

Sonya Beyers: I work with and for boards, and from driving leadership from the boardroom and through the benefit of having directorships, I’m able to look at things a little bit differently, recognising that there are ways that decisions are made effectively and often group dynamics impact that. Advisory Boards take a different role in impact to performance for an enterprise and understanding those distinctions between Advisory and governance boards is really important when you’re making your contributions as a director. So having sat on both tables, as you say, I can see where dynamics even around Advisory Boards can influence and impact a business’s success, just like governance or performance boards do.

Louise Broekman: So why do you do both Advisory Boards and governance boards and where do you see the difference in their role and function?

Sonya Beyers: I landed my first Advisory Board without really recognising it was an Advisory Board, and then having participated in your Certified Chair course, I started to take a different approach to recognising why there’s only so much you can do to influence as an Advisory Board. But I think that actually then empowers how you deliver effectiveness to an enterprise because you recognise that there are some things that you see would work and do really well for that enterprise. However, you can’t make the final decisions. So, I like the fact that influence looks different at both boardroom tables. And so, taking that influence skill from the Advisory Board has really impacted and driven my success at a governance performance board, because you’ve got to recognise you’re only one of a team. And even again, in a decision-making context on a governance board, we can’t get everything that you want. So, influence is the key that I see across both of those boardroom tables. You use it differently, and yet you can seek to achieve outcomes and maybe not achieve those. And you have to then look at what could change, or you change yourself to drive performance better into the future.

Louise Broekman: Interesting! Sonya, from your viewpoint, what’s the importance of best practice with Advisory Boards when it’s not legislated. And there’s, there’s been such a growth in the sector as well. In the last year,

Sonya Beyers: I’ve just worked with a business that’s had exponential growth and they’ve had an Advisory Board for some time where their advisors have been very insightful. They’ve understood the market. They’ve been previously, those who may have come out as you know, who are now retired so they can make good introductions. And after three years of having this group together, who’ve driven a lot of impact. They’ve now looked at it and said, we need a little bit more. What does best practice look like for us? So now they’ve actually wrapped themselves in the structure of having a terms of reference, recognizing how many times they should meet. And identifying that the close relationships they’ve got with the business owners, although impactful and very helpful, it’s probably inhibiting that Advisory Board’s performance now because they’ve become too close and there’s now a reliance element. So what they’ve said is we need to put some practices and frameworks around how we work as an Advisory Board, recognise that we might still have other relationships outside of that Advisory Board space. So they’ve seen the benefit of what best practice looks like to leverage the Advisory Board and still remain connected. In other ways to those three individuals who’ve helped drive their business success.

Louise Broekman: It’s interesting that whole refresh of Advisory Boards, it’s not losing face, it’s not that you’re not valued. It’s just that the organisation loses focus.

Sonya Beyers: And we had a conversation about did those Advisory Board members need to change or was the group and the skill and the wisdom still okay. And they all agreed together, including the business owners separately in interviews with me, they didn’t want to lose that capacity or wisdom, but they needed more rigor because now they want a best practice to actually push them to the next level. So I think there comes a moment and point in time where that best practice can take an Advisory Board to the next level to work better and more effectively with the business.

Louise Broekman: That’s great. Sonya, from your perspective, what did the Certified Chair Executive Program do for you in your profession?

Sonya Beyers: I think it’s added significant value in the language sharing. One of my favourite sayings from your courses is, ‘we road test at an Advisory Board, we make decisions at our governance performance board’. And before, when I consulted to and worked with each of those types of structures, there was always a bit of a tension where you had an Advisory Board member saying, but I can see that is the decision that I take. So now using that road test language is insightful to those who may not have participated in formal learning. Like you offer to say, well, this is the distinction. And so it’s given me the benefit of language and also extra tools to support the clients that I work with.

Louise Broekman: That’s great. So, Sonya, any tips you have for business owners and advisors, you know, wanting to move into the best practice space?

Sonya Beyers: Yes, I think really look at what it is you’re looking for from your Advisory Board. We often see that the first members appointed unknown to a business and they might be consulting to a business. So the best practice framework that we’ve heard from the Advisory Board Centre is understanding conflicts and managing them appropriately. And in fact, the message that we say is you shouldn’t have multiple relationships to ensure that you’re getting the best from your Advisory Board. That’s not necessarily the case of what I see in practice. You often see an Advisory Board member is also consulting to or has another relationship to the business. So I would suggest looking at those relationships closely and objectively and saying ‘could we get something different from this person’? If they were only looking at our business through one lens, in which case maybe we should formalise that and then let that other relationship go. So my advice is if it’s working and how does it work effectively, if it’s not, what do we do to change that? And there’s opportunity to do that through, as you and I know, formal terms of reference, engaging with those advisors and the chair to say, these are our expectations of you as a business, what can you do for us? And sometimes those conversations haven’t happened because the business owner becomes very reliant on those individuals.

Louise Broekman: That real understanding of the foundations and the framework of what you’re building is what we’ll actually build it out.

Sonya Beyers: Yes and if you haven’t done that first, it’s not too late to start that. Now you can do that even though you might have that Advisory Board in place.

Louise Broekman: Fantastic, Sonya, thank you so much for being part of this community and also for sharing the knowledge and it look forward to seeing you continuing doing the great work that you do at the board room table.