In my experience, business consulting for advisory firm owners has many parallels with how advisors work with their clients. Case in point: Many owner-advisors, just like investors, often equate “doing something” with progress. Consequently, just like advisors, much of the value that we consultants add is keeping our clients from doing something when doing nothing would be better.
It’s human nature to want to “do something.” It’s what we do: we write things, paint things, design things, build things, fix things, sell things, buy things, move things around and talk about things. Many of us build our sense of self-worth by the things we do and have done. Yet through experience, we (often slowly) begin to see that many of our ‘best’ things are actually things we haven’t done: the angry email we didn’t write, the argument we didn’t start, the criticism we didn’t voice, the penetrating question we didn’t ask, the judgment we didn’t make or the caustic rely we didn’t give to our husband or wife.
In my work, I’ve found that this accumulated wisdom applies equally to building and managing a business. In fact, I probably spend nearly half my time keeping—or trying to keep—my advisor clients from ‘doing something’ when either they or their firm would be much better off doing nothing at all. Business owners are typically highly motivated to better serve their clients and to improve their businesses. Usually, doing nothing does not come naturally. Yet, there are times when doing nothing is the right thing to do: for their clients and/or for their business. Here are some those times, when we find advisors are better off doing nothing:
Scenario 1: Taking the Time to Make a Decision
Often, an owner-advisor’s instinct to act kicks in when he/she is confronted with a problem. Yet when they haven’t really thought through what they are going to do, we find the chances are far greater of making the problem worse rather than better. We counsel our clients to make a conscious choice not to act: to give themselves—and their team—time to consider what needs to be done.
When we just ‘do something’ the step that’s often left out is truly understanding what the problem is, which even in a small business usually isn’t nearly as obvious as you might think. Is that employee really a bad one, or is their job poorly structured? Is it another employee? Or is it vague instructions, or a lack of training? On the other side, truly workable solutions are often not the “obvious” choices either. Bringing in other team members to get other perspectives and opinions is usually revealing. And it makes employees more collaborative, and committed to their jobs and their firm. Very few problems that arise in advisory firms require immediate action—but a high percentage of ‘quick decisions’ result in bigger problems that require even longer solutions.
Scenario 2: Pulling the Plug Too Soon
Many new projects, ventures, programs and plans take time to succeed. Sometimes people need to acquire new skills or gain a new expertise. Other times, some critical mass is required to really get things rolling. As a business owner, it’s critical not to let our need to do something cause us to act prematurely. We like to see all new projects include a timetable that lists milestones and tells us when to be concerned. But even those are simply guidelines that indicate the time to gather more information: not when it’s time to panic.
The first response to disappointing results should be find out what went wrong and what needs to be done to fix it. Stopping a well-thought-out project, dropping a new service or closing a new market should always be the last resort, not the first instinct.