As a founder, you will constantly get solicited and unsolicited feedback from countless people. Some advice is valuable and prescient, and some is distracting and potentially dangerous. Since constructive guidance is critical to founder growth, you need a way to select the most useful ideas for your present circumstances.
Let's run through how to determine the best advice from various audiences, including investors, advisors, peers, and your team.
Investors and Advisors
You asked them to help you build the business and you value their feedback. They have likely been a part of many other companies’ growth and success. While sometimes their advice may be too high-level or may not apply to your situation, in most cases, it will be immensely helpful.
Approach: When approaching them for insights, ask investors for collaboration, not to fix a problem. Bring specific questions to focus the discussion and show that you value their time.
Ask: "What have you seen other founders do in this situation?" This question allows you to gain insights without committing to their specific recommendation.
Filter: If they offer input that does not work for you, point out the differences between their reference situation and your specific circumstances. For instance, the advice may have worked for another founder in a different industry, growth stage, or leadership team. Identify those differences and determine if the suggestion could work for you.
Follow-Up: Follow through with any referrals and ask to speak with people they reference as having gone through your situation.
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 current crises and long-term planning.
Approach: If meeting founders does not come easily to you, reach out to investors, advisors, and vendors—think accountants, bankers, and lawyers—and ask if they know founders. Keep in mind that it may be useful to hear from founders in different industries, stages, or circumstances to get fresh perspectives.
Ask: When connecting with founders, you may have many tactical questions or be eager to hear their stories. However, you also want to ask some deeper questions, such as these:
Name three mistakes you made at my level (size, funding, etc.). What did you learn from them?
How do you deal with the worst days?
The victories can be exciting but can cause new stress. How did you deal with them?
What are your best daily practices for resilience?
Filter: Weigh advice by asking multiple sources the same question. When facing a particularly difficult decision, ask at least three people. If the recommendation sounds good, try to step into the suggestions slowly versus diving in headfirst. For a new product, test a prototype. For a new role, consider a part-time consultant first to watch how the position will function with the rest of the team.
Whenever I encounter something serious or unfamiliar, I force myself to contact a couple of people immediately. First, just writing down my questions helps to figure out the situation. Second, I know people who care about me don’t expect perfection. If I write something naïve, they will help clarify. Third, I usually get at least one fantastic insight—a new perspective on the issue, the latest ideas on how to proceed, or a referral to someone who has encountered something similar.
Follow-Up: Stay connected with people and return the favor when asked to be part of their wider network.
You may get ideas, suggestions, and veiled criticism from your team regularly.
Approach: You want to receive all feedback. Separate the ideas and recommendations from the evaluation. Show appreciation for the help now. Decide if it will work for you later.
Ask: To solicit candid feedback, ask open questions such as these:
How could I do this better? (e.g., a decision, a meeting, or a new release)
What about my leadership that allows you to succeed faster? What slows you down?
What about my style seems to create obstacles for you or others? (It may be easier to talk in terms of someone else rather than about the other person directly.)
What is one thing that I can do better? It may be easier to ask this: What is one thing that I can do better to help us prepare for scaling the company?
Pro Tip: When you ask, “What is one thing that I can be doing better?” realize that this question is powerful and therefore may be awkward for employees. To show your intentions are genuine, give examples of past feedback and how that enabled you to improve.
Filter: Listen through the answers and only respond if you need to clarify a detail. Giving you any criticism can be daunting for some employees, so allow them to talk and appreciate their willingness to share. Be sure to thank the person. If their feedback causes a strong reaction, acknowledge that to yourself and do your best to remember that you sought the advice. You may appreciate the feedback later if not now.
Follow-Up: A powerful way to encourage constructive feedback is to publicly share what you’ve learned and outline how you plan to respond. This announcement can happen through email or a company meeting.
If the advice is strong, and you think it's accurate, the best way to own the recommendation is to acknowledge it. You may need to start with one close person, expand to a few people, and eventually make your way back to the team. Despite the feelings you may experience, if you and your trusted advisors agree with the feedback, you are lucky to hear it directly.
Even if you don’t plan to follow it, showing you heard and respected the advice goes a long way in building team support.
“When you share more specifics around how you’d like to grow
and then follow up to close the loop, folks will root for your
success more—and celebrate in your wins alongside you.”
– Shivani Berry
How to Choose the Best Ideas
With input from all these different people, you may be ripe with ideas and need help prioritizing them. If you have limited resources, it will be tough to choose which ideas to pursue and which ones to let go. Here's how to prioritize the best ideas:
Goals. Start with clear, measurable company goals for the year. Whenever there is confusion, discuss which ideas will support them more based on cost and benefits.
Process. Determine who will suggest, evaluate, and rank ideas. Ideally, this will be a small group of two to four people. Describe how to visualize success at three and six months.
Evaluation. Decide feasibility using these criteria:
Impact and Detriment. What do your clients, company, team, and others stand to benefit and lose from a new idea?
Research and Opinion. Which resources, experts, and 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 potential risks?
Ranking. Determine how each idea helps reach company goals faster, stronger, and better and then rank those ideas to help your team prioritize efforts.
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 keep going, allocate more resources due to a successful initial outcome, or experiment with a new idea.
If your company contains more ideas than resources to implement them, which may be true for every reader of this book, invest time in determining which ideas to pursue first. Engage your team in evaluating ideas; work with them to foster commitment and generate innovation. Finally, refine your selection process over time to improve efficiency, which will, in turn, increase your success.
The better you are fine-tuning, pursuing, and completing ideas, the more people will be excited about creativity and experimentation. The enthusiasm becomes self-fulfilling.
Key Takeaway: All leaders stumble and fail repeatedly. Don’t beat yourself up for being normal. Seek improvement, not perfection. Acknowledge everyone willing to give advice and create a process to prioritize, implement, measure, and improve your ideas.
𝗦𝗰𝗮𝗹𝗲: 𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗵 𝗬𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗣𝗲𝗮𝗸 offers over 130 independent articles across 500 pages including leadership, growth, sales, marketing, operations, finance, and teams. In five minutes, gain invaluable insights into the best methods and practical options to activate your dreams.