Make Expert Second Opinions A Regular Presence In Everything You And Your Team Do
There is a single change you can make to the architecture of your organization that will wildly improve your chances of success, more so than 100 other strategies gleaned from dozens of expensive seminars.
Trust your instincts and your ideas, listen to every idea that your team puts forth, but find someone independent who knows the territory and regularly solicit their perspectives as you take action. Don’t wait for a savior to materialize when everything is falling apart. Build relationships with knowledgeable, independent experts from day one.
How I Learned The Lesson the Hard Way
As President of a technology company providing SaaS to hotels, I wasted a year trying every ineffective sales strategy under the sun. I built marketing campaigns and partnerships around what my sales leaders asked for, despite the fact that in spite of their best intentions, they would inevitably envision approaches that aligned with their own competencies and therefore protect their positions.
What I should have realized was that, as much as I trusted my team, neither they nor I had the solution we needed. As soon as that was clear, I should have hired an expert, but it wasn’t until several Sales Directors later that I finally wised up. I called a consulting CMO I knew and begged her to come to a conference with me.
Why An Independent Source Of Feedback Is Critical
Suppose you have a vision for a new software service, and have set a launch date one year from today. You hire a development firm, recruit a CTO, and set in-house designers and developers to work as well.
All of these people generate a constant flow of ideas, but their fields of vision and thought are clouded by their individual concerns. Agencies want to sell you solutions that make them money; CTOs want to protect themselves from the consequences of failure; and your own creative team, lacking a complete vision of the project, may make incorrect choices without any way of realizing it for months.
Even If Your Technical Team Is Awesome, They Can Easily Spend A Year Building A Misguided Or Poorly Targeted Product.
The difficulty is not in realizing the train is careening off the track, but rather seeing the warning signs before it’s too late. But who is going to spot the problem before the first wheel slips outside the rails? You?
As an entrepreneur, you are constantly pushing beyond the frontiers of your expertise. There are often perspectives you haven’t considered, or game changing tweaks that you’ve overlooked. Even if you are working squarely within the heart of your own expertise, the insights an independent expert can offer are still worth their weight in gold.
Learn more about these warning signs in 16 Signals That Your Tech Team Is In Trouble
A Lesson From A Champion
Jack Nicklaus had less need than any other golfer of his era for advice on how to play tournament golf. Yet he still regularly engaged a coach. Every few months, whether he was in the midst of a horrible slump or had just won two more of his record-smashing 18 major tournaments, he met up with an old coach from his college days, a teaching pro, on the driving range.
Nicklaus wasn’t asking the coach how to become a better golfer. He brought his own ideas on how to improve his swing and his game to the meetings. The problem he faced was that in the midst of thinking through all of those possibilities, he still had to focus on hitting the darn ball. The coach, however, had the luxury of simply observing and analyzing. He could therefore see not only how a swing concept was working at that moment, but also what the long-term outcomes of the technique change would be.
This is the challenge founders face: In the midst of generating your own visions and considering input from your staff, you still have to keep advancing the ball down the fairway. An independent, outside expert, free of that obligation, has a perspective that cannot be obtained from within the process.
So, Does It Work?
For all I know, Nicklaus would have won 18 majors without ever consulting a coach. But I can tell you what happened when that CMO accompanied to the conference back in my SaaS-selling days:
In 3 days, we sold a year’s worth of subscriptions.
Ever since that conference I have hired coaches for everything I do. I hire early, before and while I invest in a direction – and I hire opposing perspectives. In starting this business I hired no fewer than 4 coaches for marketing alone!
Tony Winders – CMO and master of PR, Peter Mansfield – CMO and funding specialist, Quinn Hobbs – B2B performance marketing, and Quintin Ford – growth hacking mastermind.
(Look them up if you need help, they are all amazing and you can find each on my resources page).
How to Choose an Outside Expert and How to Structure the Arrangement
- Make sure the outside expert you engage is truly independent.
Anyone tied to a particular product or service will inevitably have conflicts of interest.
- Make sure coaching comes from someone whose expertise aligns with your specific endeavors.
They should have experience managing similar projects at similar stages of development. Nicklaus did not consult a tennis pro. Don’t ask CISCOs CTO to be your coach if you are an early stage startup.
- Hire the expert.
Don’t ask anyone offering outside feedback and perspectives to work for equity (translation: money that will materialize around the 8th of WishfulThinkinguary). First of all, that’s sending yourself a VIP invitation to the bottom of their priority list. Secondly, you’ll be incentivizing a bias toward short-term ROI, at the expense of the long haul. A paid consultant will be 100% focused on your needs for every moment you engage them, and will serve their own interests best by taking a long-range view of every possibility. That is their one and only job, and you are signing their paychecks.
- Make it regular.
Engage the coach to check in with your team and offer feedback for a couple hours every week or two. Reserve some time for yourself with the expert now and then as well. Whether the expert endorses an idea wholeheartedly, suggests a minor tweak or two, or advises scrapping it altogether, they will always be providing that crucial extra pair of keen eyes that can spot impending disasters and hidden opportunities.
Trusting Your Team And Seeking Guidance For Them Are Not Contradictory Things!
How many of your employees at every level of the organization are doing something they’ve never done before? If you are hoping for rapid growth, the answer should be “all of them.” If feedback and analysis on your own ideas from an independent expert can help you find the most strategic moments to switch tracks, imagine how much more true that is for your staff, who do not have your breadth of experience. Who other than an experienced coach can provide the sort of ongoing, positively-framed feedback that ensures complete buy-in from every member of team?
Granting your team members regular access to an experienced coach does not cast doubt on their abilities. It gives them the chance to receive the same sort of feedback you yourself should seek out continually. In other words, it amounts to treating every team member like a founder.