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Saturday 4th of February 2023

Engaging external advisors and tech consultants


Questions companies should ask themselves

At the beginning of every new collaboration with a company that wants to grow and seeks advice on the best ways of doing it, I talk to them about some fundamental aspects they should consider, discuss, and always keep in mind.

1. Purpose

The first one is their purpose. When creating a new company or a new product, you should know what your purpose is and what exactly you are trying to achieve. Questions worth pondering on are: what problem are you looking to solve? Which opportunity are you keen to take advantage of? Where are you heading to? Why what you do matters? How are you going to achieve your end goal?

To answer all those questions, it is worth starting with the end in mind. It’s an idea borrowed from a book by Stephen Covey entitled The 7 habits of highly effective people. It consists of sitting back and thinking hard and deep about the purpose, the goal you want to achieve, the end. What does it look like? Where do you want to get in three to five years’ time? Do you want to sell your company? Are you keen to develop it even further?

Once you have a clear idea of your purpose, you need to plan back, always with that end in mind. Planning back may seem a bit unusual at the beginning, as we are all used to plan ahead, but once you get used to it, it gets natural. For example, if your end goal is to be acquired, you should think of companies you would like to acquire you. Who are they? Obviously, they may change over time, it may even be such companies do not exist as yet, but you can still think of them, of what they are like, what kind of culture they represent.

Such an approach helps to make right decisions along the way. It’s a kind of a moral compass – you need to always remember about the goal and think whether the decision you are making today is moving your company towards that goal. It’s a stir of direction which you need to move ahead.

Think about your purpose every three to six months. Review it with your board, with your investors, partners. Ask regular questions on how to get where you want to be.

2. People

Once you know your purpose, you need people that will help you achieve it. And just like with purpose, your needs for people will change: you will need different people and different skill sets at different times. It’s therefore important to hire people you need now with a short view in mind, but never forgetting about medium and long terms.

When launching a startup, you have to think about scaling, about when you will need employees who work towards customers’ satisfaction, when you will need to hire a product officer, what is the best time to building more people in your risk team. When your company grows, thinking ahead about your resources and how they should evolve is crucial. And you need to hire the right people along the way.

3. Process

I am a great believer in processes. Because of my engineering background, I believe processes are like little blocks that allow you to go ahead. You need to think of processes you apply at all levels of business and map them to understand how they work. Get to know your financial processes, selling processes, complaints handling system, the way you report to the board – it’s important to define all of them as they tell you how you should operate and allow you to have clarity about roles and responsibilities of different people within your business.

If you scale quickly, running a business when the roles are not clearly defined, regularly updated, and often reflected upon may get
complicated and confusing.

4. Proposition

The fourth aspect companies need to think about is their proposition. What value are they bringing to their client base, what problem are they solving? How are they helping their customers? It’s important to take into consideration that everything changes, and customers’ budgets get reallocated depending on different pressures, problems, and issues. But people always look for improvements.

A great example of such an improvement is BNPL – buy now, pay later system. It’s a fascinating way of taking your financial responsibility under control, created with customers in mind.

5. Technology

The last aspect that needs thinking through is technology. You need to be sure the technology you have is fit for purpose and will stay like that in the years to come. Questions to ask here are: can I scale my software? How do I ensure data protection? How do I cover all those aspects?

The role of external partners

When you think about traditional companies and how they operate, you can quickly see that HR has always performed the function of following policies, CFOs were mainly looking at numbers and reports, while CEOs were giving directions.

But things changed and modern companies need to adapt to those changes: HR needs to support employees, CFOs have to become more involved in commercial side of business’s decision-making, not just in reporting, CEOs need to direct their businesses in a more agile way.

A way to do it is via external advisors, who can look at companies from a fresh perspective and give their opinion on what they see in the market.

CEOs need to listen to them to understand more and to make better decisions.

External partners are also fundamental when it comes to complimenting the existing skill set. The best companies are characterised by a strong base of people, but also by the fact they use external services, allowing their employees to be more productive, do more, and better use their time and expertise. Also, external partners have access to talent pools which you can use to compliment your existing pool. Those external people come in, bring new ideas and say whether they’ve seen the solutions you are about to introduce somewhere else and how they worked.

I believe strong companies should be composed of both internal and external people – and I am sure such a trend will last for longer.

Communication as the highest value within the company

In the psychology of collaboration, there is a term called Abilene paradox, which applies to every organisation, no matter its size. It speaks about a situation where employees get together and start operating in conflict with the strategy set by the board. Why? Because of communication – when the board sets the strategy, they think they communicate it well to the management team and the management team thinks they communicate it well to their teams. But with that whole chain of communication, the strategy gets diluted, misinterpreted, rethemed, and when it gets to the employee who is doing the actual work, it seems confusing.

This is when people get together and collectively decide to do things differently. And they get in conflict. If the board doesn’t articulate their strategy clearly enough, if people aren’t sure of their roles, responsibilities, about how they fit it, how they bring innovating, you will get uncertainly, assumption making, anger, depression, demotivation. And this is how quiet quitting starts – people stop caring if they don’t know whether what they are doing is right or wrong.

So, the most important thing when it comes to strategies is to clearly communicate them. People need to know how they fit in within the company, while managers need to listen more and be clear in how they are conveying the strategy to their people. Too many misassumptions are simply bad for the business.

Choosing the right partner / consultant

When choosing your external partners, remember that experience counts! If you want to scale your company, choose people who know how to do it, who has seen it being done. It’s like in Formula 1 – the most successful teams are those that have vast experience, that used different cars on different circuits, that have seen many different tires behaving in different conditions.

Another important thing is the chemistry – you will be working closely together, so you need a great level of understanding, as there will be times when both of you can ask questions and may doubt. You need to be sure you can solve it all together. 

A good advisor has to understand their client and always think how to manage him. Advisory cannot be about questioning values, but about improving the business by collaboration and about asking the right questions.

That questioning bit is very important – a role of a good coach is to ask more than tell. Advisors need to understand their clients have their own ideas and inspirations, but also a lot of things going on at once and little time for reflection, so it’s vital to ask questions and allow clients to get to their own conclusions. It’s more about counselling than about directing. After all, it’s much easier to invest in your own ideas than in those belonging to someone else. Advisory means helping clients get a clarity of what to do and creating something valuable, while being flexible and adjusting to changes.

What companies are looking for when it comes to technology?

Today, the most important thing companies look for is security. Migration to the cloud has already happened, and companies cannot afford not being on cloud. This is why security is critical, no matter what you do.

Another important thing is the platform you are using. Companies want their platforms to be flexible, scalable, to provide a good foundation for what can be done in the future.

Best examples are fintechs and fintech applications used by companies from other sectors, like car selling companies, who want to have a fintech solution on their app, allowing them to offer financial services to their clients. Everyone needs a flexible platform that will help them launch new products and deliver innovation. New banking platforms are today more modular, more fit for purpose. They allow scalability and take into account security. This is also the trend for the future.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Antony Bream is a Managing Director at Ribbit Consulting.

He is an internationally experienced UK Managing and Sales Director specialising in the marketing, business development and selling of complex enterprise wide software and professional service solutions, both in-house and SaaS, at board and ‘C’ level across manufacturing, media, publishing, technology, legal and financial services during the past 30 years.


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