Reflections on the best methods to support business-to-business school collaboration through School Advisory Boards
By David Williamson
What are the best methods to support business to business school collaboration? How might Business School Advisory Boards assist? There have been a plethora of reports over the years seeking to answer how to improve university-business engagement, and within these a call for having active Advisory Boards. Here’s a checklist from my experience of working with a few School Boards and what seems to work well.
Where are you headed?
Share with them your vision, your key themes and ask them how they can help you make some of these happen? What you don’t want is a Board that simply rubber stamps what you are doing. Don’t be surprised if some really good members begin to drift. It’s sometimes a signal that there’s either no distinct vision or passion about the place, or that there’s far too little for them to do.
I mention this because it doesn’t always happen. In many cases it will be the first time new members have set foot in your School, or any Business School for that matter. The environment, the structure, the method and the speed of working will be alien to some. Pre-meets with the Head of the School and key members of the team are a great way of receiving new members, sharing information and developing collaborations that might normally not happen in the confines of the Board room.
The right mix
Recruiting new members/refreshing the Board. It needs to be a mix of course, you certainly need some Alumnus on there, and a good mix of large and small business, but there’s no point bringing new members on board simply because they tick the ‘representative’ box. What, and who, do you really need to support your vision, your priority themes and enable your strategy? Unless there’s a clear rationale of how they might assist support you, and in turn how the School can support their organisations, then maybe it is best to have a smaller but highly effective Board. It depends on the organisation and how your Chair enthuses them. Pick your board and your Chair like you would a football team - who can best help you win?
If you have recruited well then you need to be asking your Board to open their black books to advocate your vision and make new connections for you. To do this, it often helps to provide the Board with regular updates, for example:
- Research: Have your researchers periodically present latest findings, particularly those with potential application. Get the Board excited about your research. Ask them how it might be applied to their organisation / sector or to some other contact they have.
- Curriculum: Present areas of your curriculum and ask ‘Does what we teach here still meet what employers (or entrepreneurs) need now, and will it satisfy the skills and knowledge requirements in for the future? If not, what are those needs?’
- Business engagement: This area, as one might expect, tends to be of greatest interest to most Boards, so present examples of how you are engaging ‘externally.’ Your Executive Development programmes if you run them; your student-business projects and internship opportunities; your student enterprise and business start-up activity if appropriate. How are you working regionally, nationally and internationally? How might the Board connect you into targeted sectors and international territories? Maybe you have fundraising ambitions or a new scheme to get excited about. Highlight your commercial research and consultancy offerings and KTPs where you have them. Ask the questions – ‘do we offer what business needs?’ ‘Do you have contacts that could benefit from our expertise and offerings?’ ‘Can you broker introductions?’
Devoting time to attend your Board, providing advice and brokering connections for you has to have some payback. People join Advisory Boards for different reasons. Some will be passionate about the work of business schools and the difference they can make; they will want to be involved, so give them opportunities to do so. Some might want to be profiled occasionally, a news items perhaps. Some like the networking opportunities an Advisory Board presents. Whatever it may be, see that they are periodically recognised for the advice they have given and how they have assisted you to develop new businesses connections. It is a nice way of saying thank you. After all, would you help broker business collaborations for someone if you never got a thanks?
Director External Services, Kent Business School