Where do you turn when you need advice on what car to buy or what vacation getaway to book? Probably your friends, family and work colleagues. Why? Because you know they have tried different options and you value their advice on what is best…and what to avoid.
So why don’t you take advantage of peer advice in your business decisions? I understand your resistance. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about peer advisory boards, so let’s dispel a few!
#1. Peer advisory boards are for struggling businesses.
This could not be further from the truth.
Sure, your peer board can—and will—help with issues and struggles your business may be experiencing. Far more importantly; however, is that peer boards are looking for members who are experienced with running successful businesses and want to share that experience with others.
Large corporations have a Board of Directors. Do you think they only meet when the company is doing poorly? No! They meet on a regular bases to plan and advise on the strategic direction of a company. Peer advisory boards bring this strategic thinking to typically smaller, privately-owned businesses.
Any business owner who sees the great potential in their business and is seeking collective wisdom to help get them there is a great fit for a peer board.
#2. I‘ve seen it all. I don’t need to be told how to run my business.
I hear it time and time again from our peer board members, You don’t know what you don’t know.
Personally, I think that pretty much sums it up, but let’s explore further. Maybe you really have seen it all, but it’s the outside perspectives and new ideas you get from your peer board that are going to make you see your business in an fresh way.
Furthermore, business ownership can feel a bit lonely. Your peer advisory board is the sounding board for which you can truly open up and discuss your business objectively. You can expect to receive honest, unbiased feedback in a confidential setting that you just won’t find anywhere else.
As one of our board members recently put it, “My TAB board provides me what no one else will tell me – the truth!”
#3. Peer boards are basically networking groups and everyone will be trying to sell me something.
I’m a little offended by this misconception, so let’s nip this one in the bud right here and now!
Business leaders join peer advisory boards because they want to lead their businesses more strategically. Peer board members develop honest, meaningful relationships over time, becoming a trusted group of advisors with intimate knowledge of each other’s businesses.
Richard Branson wrote about the power of peer advice in his article, The Art of Asking for Advice, “When you need to make hard decisions, being able to discuss your ideas with entrepreneurs and business leaders who have solved similar problems can make all the difference.”
Your fellow board members truly care about helping your business grow, and have to knowledge and experience to get you there. You are just not going to find this anywhere else. Period.
#4. My business is unique. Someone in a different industry can’t help me.
75% of all businesses face the same challenges regardless of their industry. What kind of things do you deal with in your business? Financing? Hiring and retaining qualified employees? Increasing sales and/or marketing effectiveness?
Well, guess what: ME TOO! Along with just about every other business in creation. Your fellow peer board members have been there before and can help answer questions, so go tap into that knowledge and get on with growing your business!
I could really sit here and talk about peer advisory boards all day, but I want to know what you think. Where are you getting guidance on growing your business and why do you think that is better than a peer board? If you already participate in a peer board, what value are you gaining from your board?
Even at companies with great products and technologies, employees are invaluable. After all, someone needs to develop those new innovations and maintain your technology. It’s no secret that a company is only as strong as its weakest link. But even though employers know workers are a business’s most valuable asset, most employees don’t feel particularly valued in the workplace.
Take a look at this article, from the Harvard Business Review. Kevin Ryan, CEO of Gilt Groupe, argues that businesses succeed not because of ideas, but because of people. Mr. Ryan is of the opinion that CEOs should spend most of their time recruiting and managing people.
No argument there, but I would also argue that most companies have a fundamental hiring and training flaw. This lack of post hiring skill is especially problematic for small businesses. In larger businesses, a few employees not operating at peak performance is not a major issue. At a small businesses, it is imperative for every employee to be top notch.
What does the first week – and the first month – look like for an employee in your business? Most businesses provide a good cultural introduction on the first few days. The job responsibilities of the employee are explained, and maybe the new employee someone who will closely supervise them for the first couple weeks. My experience in small businesses is that shortly after a new employee is hired, they are on the front line, doing the job they were hired to do.
This can be done better. How? My experience is that hiring managers do a great job focusing on the WHAT. But they do a poor job focusing on the WHY and the HOW.
In time, a new employee will learn the WHY from doing their job and interacting managers and with their peers. But, they would do a better job initially if they learned the WHY right from day one.
Explaining the HOW is what I see as the true missed opportunity in new employee training. In fact, my experience is that hiring managers are reluctant to teach the HOW because they are afraid of offending the employee. They picked the new hire because of their experience, right? If the employee has been working on a helpdesk for the last 3 years, they should know how to do it; and could be legitimately offended if their hiring manager gets too basic.
I understand this concern, but there’s a workaround. Establish an upfront agreement with the new employee. This agreement would be done on the new worker’s first day, and would go something like this:
Ann, I’m so happy that you are finally part of the team. You are going to be a great asset to our organization, and I am hopeful that you will have a long and successful career here.
We will undertake a comprehensive training program over the next two weeks. The goal of this program is for you to be fully prepared to be as successful as possible.
I’ve hired you because of your significant experience in this area, but we also have some best practices that we’ve developed. I want to be sure you are fully prepared to execute our company developed practices.
During this training period, I’m asking your permission to explain things to you very carefully; these explanations will probably include many things that you already know. I’m also asking your permission to accept feedback from me on each task as we go through them.
Again, the goal is to prepare you to be as successful as possible in your new role. I also expect to learn many things through this training period, and will commit to be open minded regarding your feedback.
In my experience, all employees want to do a great job. Moreover, most employees think that they are doing a good job – even if their managers do not. Yet, without being introduced to the WHY and the HOW from day 1 – they are not fully meeting the owner’s expectations.
By establishing an upfront contract like that outlined above, you will have permission to cover the WHY, WHAT & HOW of the new position; and at the end of the training period, you will have an employee fully ready to be rock star for your business.
Tips for training new employees?
The most basic element of every successful company’s marketing message is their Unique Selling Proposition, or USP.
In running any successful business, it’s important to clearly differentiate the business in the eyes of potential customers and to continually focus on the unique need that is provided by the business’s products or services. A well-defined USP constructs a memorable message of these unique qualities and very clearly answers the question, “Why should I do business with you instead of one of your many direct competitors?
Many business owners, including a significant portion of the hundreds I have personally interviewed for TAB membership, answer the above question with “good customer service.” Unfortunately, there is nothing unique about good customer service—all of your competitors probably feel that they offer good customer service as well!
Good customer service is the implementation of a USP and is a key strategy in keeping your customers—a well-written USP defines how you get customers! If you cannot clearly define the uniqueness of your product or service (and create some enthusiasm for customers to buy), you probably don’t have the basic foundation for a successful company.
A great example of one company’s USP is “fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Domino’s significantly changed the pizza delivery market with the implementation of this USP, and they didn’t even promise that the pizza tasted good.
Here’s another… “positively, absolutely delivered the next morning by 10:30 am.” Federal Express literally created a market for overnight document delivery and became so good at it that the word FedEx was added to our daily lexicon as a generic term for all overnight document deliveries.
One of the quickest ways to go out of business is to attempt to market a product or service that hardly anyone wants, needs or understands. When developing your USP, focus on the factors that are most important to the buyers and end users of your product or service, especially the ones that are not easily duplicated by competitors. Be sure to develop adequate marketing tools to communicate your USP, including media advertising, direct mail, packaging and sales personnel.
The simple test of determining whether you’ve developed an effective USP is whether it sells for you. If it sells your products or services, your USP is meaningfully different.