Use of Advisors When You're in Trouble

07 January 2008 Written by 
Published in CEO Think: Blog

Some days in business – when you get the news that scares you – you feel like you’ve seen a ghost. Who do you call? Your very own version of the business ghost busters.

I hate those days, and I remember each of them well – the days when you get that “Oh @#%!” feeling. When you discover news about your business that scares you, that makes you feel like everything you’ve worked for is at risk. And when it’s really not clear to you what should be done.

It’s like you’ve seen a ghost.

When watching the movie, “Ghostbusters,” the answer seemed so easy – “Call Ghostbusters.” And there are business ghost busters, too. But you’ve got to know their number.

Getting your own ghost buster

The “business ghost buster” I’m talking about is a trusted advisor. They are all over the world, but hard to find. They’re people that have more experience than you (or different experience) that help you through those rough days and the ensuing fallout. They are a wise sage, a coach, a mentor, a sounding board. They listen well, and give great advice.

I’ll offer more descriptive information about them soon. But first, I want to talk about the process of finding them. You see, when you do have one of those horrible days, it’s probably too late to start looking for your personal ghost buster. Maybe you’ll be lucky and find them right away. But chances are, you’ll go through a trial and error phase until you find someone of quality, and someone that you feel comfortable around. Yes, it has to be both – a quality advisor, and someone you are comfortable with. I like to try out my prospective advisors (of all types – legal, tax, and business) by giving them a tidbit task. I pay them between $300 to $3,000, then decide if they were great. If not, move on and look for another. Ask for referrals from your peer group, your current advisors (CPA, lawyer, consultants). Use your network for leads on these advisors.

Recognizing the best

I’ll tell you some commonalities I’ve seen in all the “ghost busters” I work with:

1. They are busy. It can be hard to get all the time you need. They never try to plump up the hours they can bill you for. They tend to resist expanding the scope of the assignment unless they feel it is essential. You’ll be told to “do it yourself” on many occasions if its “safe” and you can do the task competently.

2. They are teachers. They’ll explain all their thinking to you, in the hopes that you’ll grow as a business executive.

3. They listen and ask lots of questions. Sometimes they have to spend a day or more thinking deeply about your situation before giving you their opinion.

4. They know their own weak points, and what they don’t do well, and won’t venture into that territory. They’ll easily say things like, “My sense is that there could be ____ issues here, and they are really important to assess properly early on. You need a _________ expert here. I know a few names, or perhaps you do...”

5. They rarely prescribe “programs” or “packages.” You won’t hear them say, “Oh, well the best way to deal with this is my ghost buster’s package, where for $35,000, I come in six times over a two month period…”

6. They give really good answers. Their advice is solid.

7. They look at the big picture first, and understand the overarching needs of the business and of its leader or owner. They understand business, not just the specialty they were trained for in school. They are not eager to jump in to fix the part of the problem in which they have competency. Often they help you see the problem, which is solved by something that doesn’t involve them.

8. You will like them, and will feel safe in disclosing your most intimate problems, your worst nightmares, and your dreams. They must like you too, or they won’t work with you. This soft stuff is really important – you’ll be baring your soft underbelly to them!

9. Their fee may be really high (usually hourly), but it will be very clear that they save you much more.
You may find that over the years, you use them less, or differently. You’ll learn how they think, and your experience base will grow. Sometimes, you’ll lay out the issue, lay out your analysis, and your intended actions, and ask for their opinion. After a while if they regularly agree with you, you’ve taken a big step into being your own ghost buster.

Takeaways:

  • Have your own “ghost busters” lined up before trouble strikes.
  • Try out an advisor with a small task and then decide if you want to keep using them.
  • Recognize the traits of a good “ghost buster” and learn from them.
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Robert Sher

Robert has published extensively on the successful leadership traits of CEOs of mid-market companies. He is a regular columnist on Forbes.com as well as CFO.com, has written a book ("The Feel of the Deal”) and numerous articles for such publications as the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal and the East Bay Business Times. He also publishes his own newsletter, The CEO Insomnia Factor.

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About Robert Sher


Robert Sher

Robert Sher is founding principal of CEO to CEO, a consulting firm of former chief executives that improves the leadership infrastructure of midsized companies seeking to accelerate their performance. He was chief executive of Bentley Publishing Group from 1984 to 2006 and steered the firm to become a leading player in its industry (decorative art publishing).

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