𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝘁𝗼 𝗙𝗶𝗹𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗕𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗔𝗱𝘃𝗶𝗰𝗲
Updated: Jan 29
Constructive advice is critical to founder growth. You need to solicit valuable opinions, and will certainly get a ton more.
As you talk with investors, peers, the team, and advisors, how do you solicit and determine the best advice?
When approaching investors for advice, frame their input as collaboration, not as fixing a problem. Bring specific questions to focus the discussion and value their time.
By asking the question, "What have you seen other founders do in this situation?" you are not committed to their specific recommendation.
If they offer input but that does not work for you, point out the differences from when they witnessed the situation and your circumstance.
Also, ask if you can speak with the person they are referencing. That person may help you realize it could actually work or define the influences back then which are irrelevant now.
Hopefully, you know fellow founders and leaders who are equally eager to learn new information, share experiences, and provide support. They can be great sources of advice in a current crisis and for long-term planning.
If meeting founders does not come easily, reach out to investors, advisors, and vendors (e.g. accountant, banker, lawyer) and ask if they know people.
When connecting, you may have a ton of tactical questions or be eager to hear their stories. However, you also want to ask some deeper questions such as:
Name 3 mistakes you made at my level (size, funding etc.) and what did you learn?
How do you deal with the worst days?
The victories are exciting, but also cause a new stress. How did you deal with them?
What are your best practices for resilience daily?
Keep in touch with people who are willing to be vulnerable and offer genuine responses and return the favor when asked by them or another entrepreneur who contacts you.
You may get all sorts of ideas, suggestions, and veiled criticism from the team on a regular basis. You want to notice the opinions based on potential impact and note when you hear the same feedback from multiple people.
You want to solicit candid feedback by asking open questions, such as:
How could I do this better? (a decision, a meeting, a new release)
What about my style allows you to succeed faster?
What about my style seems to create obstacles for you or others? (It may be easier to talk in terms of your impact on someone else)
What is one thing that I can be doing better? (This may be awkward for people - we don't like to be mean, especially to our bosses - so be gentle but persistent)
Listen through the answers and don’t respond unless you need to clarify a detail.
You may not agree or may have a feeling but thank them for being candid. Even if the immediate feedback is not helpful, you may learn something useful in the future.
A strong way to encourage constructive feedback is to publicly admit to the advice, share what you’ve learned, and offer how you plan to respond. Even if your response is not going to be what was asked, showing you respect the advice does a long way to building support.
You asked them to help you build the business and value their feedback. They have likely been a part of many other companies growth and success.
However, there will be times when you don't want to follow their advice. It's hard to know if that's because the advice will not work for you or if the advice is tough to implement.
In either case, consider setting up an experiment where you dedicate a small amount of financial and human resources to test the idea. You may find it successful or learn something else in the process (many modern drugs were originally tested for other purposes).
This approach also shows the team that you are open to trying new ideas, a value that can lead to future innovation and encourage ownership among the team.
How to Choose the Best Ideas
With input from all these different people, you may be ripe with ideas but they are hard to prioritize. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Here's how to select the juiciest ones:
Goals. Start with clear, measurable company goals for the year. Whenever there is confusion, revert to the discussing which ideas will support them more based on cost and benefits.
Process. Determine who will suggest, evaluate, and rank ideas. Ideally, a small group of two to four people. Describe how to visualize success by three and six months.
Evaluation. Decide feasibility using these criteria:
Impact and Detriment – What do your clients, company, team, and individuals stand to benefit and to lose from a new idea?
Research and Opinion – Which resources, experts, & team members will provide useful guidance? What can go right and go wrong?
Experiment and Mitigate Risk – How can you initially test an idea within a limited context (to minimize any potential risk)?
Ranking. Rate how each idea helps reach company goals faster, stronger, and better.
Implementation. Choose the desired outcomes, milestones, and metrics. Plan to review progress on a specific date.
Feedback. Rely on your success criteria to measure progress. You may decide to keep going, to apply more resources with a successful initial outcome, or to experiment with a new idea.
If your company is full of more ideas than resources, invest time to determine which proposals to pursue. Engage the team to compare and consider ideas will build commitment and generate innovation and refine your process to improve speed and success.
All leaders stumble and fail repeatedly. Seek improvement, not perfection. Acknowledge everyone willing to give advice and then create a process to prioritize, implement, measure, and improve your ideas.