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Sunday, July 04, 2010

CONTROL = APPLICATION OF INFORMATION: Don't Become a "Mark" - 07.04.2010

Don't Become a "Mark"

Dear Colleagues, Members and Readers:

If you are in a young and growing business, you will undoubtedly solicit advice from other "respected" sources. If they have the time and the inclination, they will generally be happy to talk about everything that is wrong with your business, your plan, your product, your presentation, your website and your choice of partners of personnel. Don't be offended -- this is strictly a function of Human Nature.

When you ask someone for advice, you have opened yourself up as an object of criticism, and the invariable barrage of negative comments you receive come from three types of behaviors:

1. It is easier to find fault than to find what's good, and pay any compliments. There are far more critics than artists. Most people are trained to find fault, to place blame (wherever possible) and walk away, satisfied that they have given you the unvarnished, occasionally tactless truth. Even if you've inititated the dialogue by asking, "Could you point out the strengths and weaknesses of...?" you can bet that the negatives will by far outweight the positives. It is also easier for most people to point out problems than to pose solutions;

2. The old saying that "misery loves company," is quite true. Most people who are willing to offer their solicited or unsolicited criticisms will put you down to elevate themselves above their own failures. They have an emotionally vested interest in your failure. These folks are balloon-prickers. Their self-appointed duty is to be certain that you don't get "false hopes," and inadvertantly succeed where they themselves have failed;

3. Consultants often sell their services by pointing out why you will fail. When you ask them (innocently) for a course of action or recommentation, they will not repond with a concrete solution...they will reply in generalities, talk about how they possess the knowledge and genius to help you, and start talking about "retainer." In these situations you have made yourself a "mark" and an unwitting victim to an individual who understands (very well) about how most persons in a position of weakness will jump at an offer of a cure from a seemingly self-assured, experienced "consultant" or "coach". Complicating matters, some of these persons are truly valuable, while others are opportunistic parasites. Knowing the difference is very important,

In soliciting opinions from third parties about your business, what you divulge, how you ask, and how you proceed are critical factors in the process of refining your business plan, products, presentation and policies. Here are some guidelines:

1. Frame your request properly. For example, "Would you take a look at our website, and list, in your opinion, the strongest points and the weakest points, so that we can discuss them together? We value your opinion, and we are very open to suggestion." Be proud, be brave -- but don't be cocky or seem unreceptive.

2. Give the third party as little information as possible. Do not share what you have heard from other parties. Do not sound negative or "bad-mouth" your own work effort or product. Don't set yourself or your business up to be the target of a multi-person assault or a pre-mature and unintended focus group.

3. Never, ever open up with a desperate phrase like "we need your help." Or, "a lot of people have been complaining that they just don't get our message..." and the like.

4. Listen carefully, and take notes (on both the praise and the criticism). Don't interrupt and insert your view, or discuss what others have said. Listen and take notes. When the process is finished, be thankful and simply ask, "What would you suggest that we do in order to strengthen our weak points?" You'll get some good infomation. Be gracious and keep taking notes. Then promise to get back in touch with the third party after you've made some changes. Follow-up judiciously, graciously and professionally.

5. If the feedback is largely negative, and you are dealing with an opportunistic coach, consultant or other professional service provider, respond with: "That sounds interesting. It's worth thinking about. Would you be kind enough to give us a written proposal with your suggestions and fee structure so that I can discuss it with my partners?" Hint: If no proposal appears within a few days, go no further, and simply move on. If a proposal does appear, take a good look at what is offered, and determine if it is something that you really need.

An important last comment is in order. You will get many suggestions and criticisms from each of the individuals whose opinions you solicit. Look for the common themes (both compliments and criticisms) that emerge through the process. The ones which occur most frequently are the ones that are most likely to need to be addressed, and as soon as possible. All of the other comments, both positive and negative, that are not duplicated in any second party's assessment should not be completely ignored, but they should be treat more as issues of taste, preference and opinion, than as matters of actionable fact.

Part of management is collecting data, analyzing it, weighing it and applying it when, as and if appropriate.


Douglas Castle

TAGS, KEY WORDS, LABELS AND TERMS: application, information, controls, victimization, Articles by Douglas Castle, TNNWC, intelligent management, emerging enterprises, start-ups, advice, strategy, common mistakes, revealing vulnerability, controlling the flow of information, being decisive.

Douglas Castle
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