Posted: September 17, 2019
Basic business advice 101 is to surround yourself with good people. This makes sense. Growing a business is hard and it’s not for the faint-hearted; many people fail. You need the right people in your corner, fighting with and for you.
The people you surround yourselves with can lift you up, or be dysfunctional dead weights holding you back. They become the other voices in your head – whether for good or to your detriment. And they dish out advice when asked, and broadcast their opinions (despite not being asked!)
If what entrepreneur Jim Rohn maintains is true – and “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” – then surrounding ourselves with good people is a no-brainer. They influence our decisions and our way forward.
However, I’m not just here to regurgitate tried and true business advice; I’m here to take this idea further… So who should we be choosing for counsel or seeking out for advice? And how do we learn the most from these relationships to help us thrive?
My own networks
For me, one of the networks I have chosen to immerse myself in for the last 15 years is that of EO – the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. The events, the tools, the accountability, and the community have been incredible – but possibly the aspect that’s had the biggest impact is my forum.
EO’s unique model brings together small groups of members – all fellow business owners – for peer-to-peer learning and support. Having a network of other successful entrepreneurs who have felt the thrill of winning, toiled through the tough times, and understand the unique challenges I face is invaluable. My forum – who function almost like an informal advisory board – is a high-trust environment, and we have some special protocols in place that support that.
I can’t reveal the secret handshake here, but what I can tell you about this special space are the parameters we put around advice; members are only able to speak from the perspective of their own experiences. We share lessons learned or ways that we have overcome a specific challenge – and, with participants speaking only from prior experience, we’re each left to then draw our own conclusions and decide what will influence our direction.
The hallmarks of good advice
EOers would claim that they don’t give advice, yet we all receive an incredible amount of value from these open and honest conversations. I’ve certainly found solutions, and planned pivots in my own journey, as I’ve listened to the others speak. So, if there’s no doubt that we’re influenced by those we converse with, what then makes something advice? And how do we determine what’s good advice?
The importance EO places on experience-based advice has always resonated with me. I’m a firm believer in only taking advice from people who have been there and done it – and that’s what we’ve built into Advisory.Works.
This might sound strange coming from me because, as strategic advisors, we’re very much in the business of advice. However, we see daily that while all the theory in the world is valuable, it can’t substitute riding the emotional journey of growing and scaling a business. Only with the relevant experience does the plethora of proven, research-based frameworks start to mean something. For us, the theory acts as a tool to support us in facilitating the hard questions for clients; it doesn’t form the basis of our advice. Only what we’ve seen and done can do that.
As an expert on advice then, I’d urge you to seek out, and partner with, business people who have moved through the complexities you’re currently facing – those who have experience with your particular growth challenge or market. Ask them about their journey and let them earn your respect and trust like you would with any relationship. Look for those who front-load your interactions with value, and who leave you feeling enthusiastic and inspired after an interaction. With our shifting market dynamics, it’s more important than ever to find those who see the opportunities amidst the brewing storm clouds.
And when you’ve found your tribe, and built a network of incredible business people, how do you then get that network functioning so you can realise its value?
1. Create a space for productive conflict
When you’re considering any decision, make sure that all the relevant people with a perspective are comfortable, and able, to voice their perspective. There needs to be a space for open discussion to occur. Not only do these conversations create a great degree of trust, they’re fertile ground for productive conflict on the way to a resolution.
These types of conversations are vital because if you’re not creating a space for productive conflict to occur, I can guarantee it’s happening somewhere else unproductively.
This can also be where the value of the facilitatory role that we play is so vital. We guide these conversations – encouraging everyone to have a say, maintaining the momentum, and bringing it to a place where decisions can be made. Those hard-fought decisions, without a doubt, achieve greater alignment and have a far greater chance of enthusiastic execution than those that weren’t ever challenged. After all, those who plan the fight don’t fight the plan.
2. Add a healthy dose of challenge
A very real risk within our networks, especially when they’re comprised of people just like us, is the insidious slide into ‘group think’. This occurs when we all reinforce each others’ ideas until we create our own ‘echo chamber’. Countless times I’ve seen this happen in both management teams and within boards. People will commonly agree with the leader, even if they don’t believe that what they’re saying is correct – or there are horror stories of concessions made by boards in order to wrap up the meeting so they can go for lunch.
The healthy and vital counter to this is challenge; look out for, or proactively invite, someone who will challenge complacency into your discussions. You want a ‘devil’s advocate’ – someone who will ask tricky questions and not just accept the path of least resistance. Or have a go at playing that role yourself. (Another tip would be to make sure that your meeting is catered with snacks!)
With conscious thought, our networks can be one of our richest sources of inspiration and direction. Picking the people you surround yourself with is the first step – followed closely by the ability to execute based on the advice you receive. Unfortunately, this is where most great plans fall over. Look out for my next post for more about the importance of execution and how to overcome its challenges.
This blog was written by Simon Mundell, Founder and Strategic Advisor at Advisory Works.
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