Plans fail when there is no counsel, but they succeed when advisers are many.“ (Proverbs 15:22)

This is an often-quoted verse, a piece of advice from King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. While the advice doesn’t appear to be pointed only at business people, the application of that wisdom can make the difference between success and failure for a business person.

How do you apply the wisdom of this passage in a practical way to a business?


An Attitude of Humility  

You must have the attitude that there are people in your world who may be wiser than you. And who have experience and expertise in areas that you do not.  Even the wisest, smartest, most experienced person is subject to flawed perspectives, emotionally-influenced decisions, and paradigms and prejudices that can negatively impact a set of decisions.   If you think you know it all, then a set of advisers is going to be a waste of their time and yours.

While humility is about you, and how you think of yourself, it helps if, at the same time, you have a healthy respect for the experiences, wisdom, motivation and thinking skills of people around you.    If you don’t have people in your life who you respect, you are probably not a good candidate to be positively influenced by a group of them.

So, the necessary foundation is a sense of humility on your part coupled with a healthy respect for some of the folks in your world. Having laid that foundation, here are three proven practices for bringing a group of advisers into your business.

1. A Formal Advisory Board 

This is a group of people who meet with you on a regular basis, and react and respond to a set of questions and issues that you bring to them.  In most cases, they are paid on a per-meeting basis.

You select each advisor based on the experience and skill he/she has accumulated along the way.  You bring them into your group for at least a year or two.  That gives them enough time to educate themselves on your business and grow an interest in your success.

For about ten years, I was on the advisory board of one of my clients.  There were eight of us who met formally once a quarter, in a three-hour meeting.  The company owner would prepare the agenda, which generally required us to discuss and recommend actions for some aspect of the business.

Minutes were kept and circulated, and a formal agenda was prepared and distributed in advance of the meeting.  We did things like review quarterly financial statements, help with key decisions, interview candidates for key positions, vet potential acquisitions, and serve as an on-going strategic planning task force.  The owner felt like he had a group of high-power advisors who contributed the best of their experience and thinking, for a fraction of the cost of a similar group of employees.

In a very mature market, that business grew consistently more rapidly than the competition, survived the major economic downturn, and regularly acquired its competitors.  Some of the credit for that success rested on the insights and recommendations of this group of people.

2. An Executive Roundtable Group

This is a group of executives who meet, usually once a month, under the management of a facilitator, to educate themselves on best practices, to learn from one another, and to discuss one another’s businesses.  The advantage is that this kind of group is often composed of other business executives and the costs are less than maintaining your own advisory group.  The disadvantage is that you are not the sole subject of the meeting, and the group exists to help each business in the group.  The quality of these groups varies dramatically, and it is not unusual to join a group where everyone is guarded, and no one shares their real problems, challenges, and financial performance.

These kinds of groups have become very popular, and there has arisen an industry of people who organize them.  They range everywhere from the free or inexpensive groups supported by your local Chamber of Commerce to secular groups like Vistage and TAB, to Christian-oriented groups like C-12, Convene and Truth@Work.

I have been involved as a member and a facilitator of these groups for 30 years, with lots of experience in local CEO roundtables.  I currently run groups that meet locally, as well as groups who meet via video conference from locations around the continent.

We have dealt with a range of issues and challenges in these groups – everywhere from “should I buy this building,’ to “should I fire this person,”  to “my wife just filed for divorce.”  The longer you are a part of one of these groups, the more deep and transparent are the issues that the group confronts.

3. Temporary Decision-Specific Groups.

These are groups of people that you pull together, typically for just one meeting, or one meeting a year, who react and respond to an issue that you bring to them.

For example, if you are contemplating a new product, you could bring together a group of customers in a focus group to react to the new product and make specific recommendations.  In customer groups that I have facilitated, the insights and ideas gained have been worth their weight in platinum, both smoothing the path to success for a new product and preventing costly mistakes.

If you are considering a major building project, you could pull together a group of financiers, developers, and folks who have gone through a similar project and have them look closely at your plans and point out the potential obstacles and hurdles.

The point is you bring together a group of people who have experience in the issue you are facing, and gather their input before making a final decision.

Other Ideas

There are other variations on the theme of ‘multiple advisers.’  One of my clients, for example, makes it a practice to “invite a good thinker from outside the industry to lunch once a month.”    Each of these variations requires an openness on your part to proactively seek out formal input, an underlying sense of humility, and an appreciation for the wisdom of the scripture:

Plans fail when there is no counsel, but they succeed when advisers are many.“ (Proverbs 15:22)


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