Bird to fish: “How’s the water?” Fish to bird: “What water?”

Every business has challenges.  Those challenges can often lead to a lack of progress.  From new initiatives to cash flow, business leaders are faced with challenges everyday that prevent them from moving the needle in the right direction.  There is no shortage of bright leaders with great problem solving and critical thinking skills, however, even the most experienced, educated manager has a disadvantage if they’ve been in the company for more than 3 months.

Bird to fish: “How’s the water?” Fish to bird: “What water?”

No matter how passionate and committed, every leader has a form of apathy, the unintended consequence of being in a job for more than 90 days.   It’s pretty typical, employees only  have a fresh set of eyes for about 3 months before the blatantly obvious becomes irrelevant.  This is basic  human nature- we look to the reaction of others in a situation to form our own reaction.  If everyone is calm and happy, the mind subconsciously tells us, there is nothing wrong and we react accordingly even if there’s a blazing fire two feet behind us.

It happens in the business world too.  Leaders and teams adopt  the collective paradigm .  Consequently,  critical decisions are made in a collective silo filled with preconceived notions and perceptions about what can and can’t work within the organization.      The old saying goes “You’ll get what you’ve always gotten, if you keep doing what you’ve always done.”    As a result, progress can be painfully slow. There’s a few ways to deal with this phenomenon. The first step is acknowledging it exists. Unfortunately, ego can prevent leadership from acknowledging low level forms of apathy.  When challenges can’t be overcome or progress isn’t being made- the P&L will force teams to look to other sources for creative problem solving in the form of  outside perspectives.

 “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”- Marcel Proust

New employees are a wealth of insight in the first three months.  They will see obvious solutions to problems, new paths around obstacles because they haven’t adopted the collective paradigm, yet.  Companies who can leverage  ramp time of new staff to bring fresh insights will always have an advantage.  By creating an onboarding process that includes exposure to challenges in all departments with a feedback loop, managers will have a steady flow of new ideas.  Yet, managers have to keep an open mind and not respond internally with the “that won’t work here” mentality.  It’s the role of leadership to encourage fresh ideas and essentially take risk in trying them out, regardless of thier preconceived notions.

Advisory boards are also another way for leaders to gain new insight into old challenges. An advisory board is a body that provides non-binding strategic advice to the management of a corporation, organization, or foundation. The informal nature of an advisory board gives greater flexibility in structure and management compared to the Board of Directors.  These boards are  typically volunteers who have expertise in other industries, have high business acumen  and experience in specific functions of business such as finance, product development, or marketing.   The downside is not all companies have the network or bandwidth to build out an advisory board, sometimes a group of friends or peers in a casual setting can serve the same purpose.

Consultants have been used most widely in all functions of business.  Often times consultants work with a company for short periods of time and move on. These professionals analyze business problems, facilitate the problem solving process, offer solutions while also helping companies meet their goals. Leaders consider hiring business consultants when they need  perspective on their strategy or need to implement change in their companies.  Here’s what to look for in a consultant.

  1. Experience.  Consultants should be experts in a particular subject but more importantly they should  have experience in multiple industries and market verticals.
  2. Professional References. Good consultants have no shortage of references from past jobs or clients.
  3. A Web Presence.  If a consultant isn’t showing up in a Google search, chances are they aren’t managing thier own business properly.
  4. Reasonable Pricing Structure.  Consultants are usually hired because a company can not afford to bring on a full team or in house expertise.  Therefore, rates should make financial sense.

“I wonder if you heard what I didn’t say?”- Daryl Dunham

Great consultants have acute listening and communication skills.  They should be able to hear information and regurgitate it in a manner that’s productive and effective.  Delivering information and analysis requires some emotional intelligence, good timing, and clear summaries.  Consultants should be able to deliver bad news in a way that isn’t appeasing or insulting. Tough skill to hone.  Here’s what a consultant can do for the business.

  1. Bridge teams and differences temporarily to work on issues.
  2. Help departments stay in scope and on budget.
  3. Provide fresh, new ideas to old problems that haven’t been able to be solved in the past.
  4. Bring to light hidden opportunities that no one has seen before.
  5. Facilitate problem solving and teach leaders how to facilitate problem solving.
  6. Analyze current state and recommend  improvement projects.
  7. Help a business reach it’s goals.

What leaders can do as the first step is acknowledge the apathy, look to outsiders, and then let go of preconceived notions to try new solutions to fix old problems.

All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.
– Leonardo da Vinci