Saturday, June 04, 2022

You Need A Council

Group Council Meeting
Photo by Chase Chappell on Unsplash

This last quarter I interviewed a handful of business owners & leaders to understand better how they handle challenging situations and decisions. I wanted to know if there was an opportunity to create a monthly gathering to help them take their life and business to the next level from a Christian perspective. I embarked on this mini-journey because I had many causal exchanges last year with business owners and sensed a need. I also found myself in a comfortable place and wondering how to take my business to the next level.

The conversations were fascinating, and I appreciated how quickly everyone opened up to me. Actually, I was surprised by how much people shared! They dove almost immediately into their most pressing issues, and I could sense a small weight lifted from simply sharing their problems with someone else.

I came away with two conclusions.

1) Problems Are Industry Specific

There are some overlapping leadership issues, but all of them are heavily influenced by their industry. So, there are some common issues like motivating people, increasing sales, managing cash flow, improving operations, and long-term planning. But the specifics and tactics tend to shift within different industries. So, this group would either need to stay tightly focused on one sector or stay general.

2) Problems Mostly Stem From Discipline, not a Lack of Knowledge

There are lots of resources already available: coaches, mastermind groups, clubs, podcasts, videos, email newsletters, and more! The problem isn't learning how to run a great organization because the information is available. The problem is a lack of accountability to keep pushing on the right things. There are, of course, advanced tactics that could be helpful, but most people merely need to stay disciplined with the basics.

So, instead of creating a monthly meeting... one more reason to "play business" and not get real work done, I thought I'd share the one thing I noticed successful people do.

Create a Council

I was re-reading Good to Great when the pieces came together. Jim Collins notes that becoming great doesn't happen overnight; it's a process; a messy process. And one way to help you find your path is by regularly gathering a group of people to help you think through important issues. It doesn't need to be an official board of directors, but a group of committed people.

Who Should Create a Council?

If you sell things, create things, or lead people, you will benefit from a council. If you have something important you're working on, you will benefit from a council.

I'm thinking of business owners, managers, missionaries, parents, artists, entrepreneurs, and many more.

When I turned 36, my body changed, and my weight started slowly increasing. I could no longer eat whatever I wanted, but I didn't have good eating habits to lean on. I looked forward ten years - when my kids would be the most active - and I didn't like my chances of keeping up. My health became important to me. So, I hired a coach to help me get fit. And it worked! There's something to the wisdom that professionals hire coaches.

You could hire a coach, but I think you would get just as much value, if not more, from a council.

You could also do a mastermind-style group that overlaps on the important thing. It's the same idea as below, but everyone gets a turn in the hot seat.

Who Should Join Your Council?

You want at least 3 people, but 12 is overkill. I feel like 5 is perfect, allowing one or two people to miss and still have a productive session.

You aren't looking for specific skills, though some industry/business knowledge will help, and if you know someone already where you want to be, fantastic! Look for people you trust who are creative problem solvers, willing to focus on a problem for a while, and speak candidly.

It also doesn't need to be people you work with daily; outside perspectives are valuable. You want to have an existing relationship and not choose a random LinkedIn connection.

Don't overthink this: find three people you trust and start.

How Often Should you Gather?

It depends on the size and speed of the business. For mine - a stable 1.5-person shop, it might be once every other month. If you're going through a lot of change or growth, you might meet once a week. That's a lot! But that's what you might need to keep yourself on track. My recommendation is to start meeting once a month and adjust after a year if required.

What Format Should You Use?

There's no one-size-fits-all, so here are some suggestions to get started. I like Sol Orwell's advice, and Scaling Up Growth Tools is a good source for identifying a strategic plan and KPIs. Brandon Turner's 90-Days Intention Journal is also helpful.

  1. KPIs / Metrics
  2. Highs: Big Announcements & Milestones
  3. Lows: Troubles, Problems / Concerns (be open about the brutal facts)
  4. Last's month's commitments
  5. Lessons Learned
  6. Team Updates / Hires
  7. Open questions & How the council can help
  8. This month's initial commitment: One thing that'll move your business forward (subject to the council's feedback)

Share a written summary before the meeting. Please don't spend more than an hour writing it. Then meet for an hour.

For my rental business, it might look something like this:

  1. Profit per door = $100.60 (goal is $100). Vacancy turnaround time = 3 of them @ 1, 5, & 15 days, or 7 on average (goal is 5 days)
  2. I found an architect to help me develop my vacant lot. I also filled all my vacancies.
  3. I have a tenant who I'm pretty sure isn't going to pay rent in June. Replacing a shower took 2 days longer than planned. I'm dissatisfied with my current property management software and just stopped using another feature because it's too buggy.
  4. I finished writing the front-end code for my own custom property management software.
  5. I re-read Good to Great and solidified my hedgehog concept.
  6. We continue to experiment with Horizon Workrooms for our weekly meetings. We're looking into using Nimble for CRM, but will probably just stick with AirTable.
  7. I'm giving a presentation to a local real estate investor club on flipping land. Is there something I could/should promote during my presentation? Pray for my tenant who's having difficulty financially because I don't want to kick someone out when they're down.
  8. Get pre-qualified for a new loan to buy another property. Stretch: find a new property to buy.

When we meet, I'd start by asking if they had any clarification questions. Then, we'd talk about the lows and open questions. Finally, we'd finish with my commitments for the month (and confirm the location/time of the next meeting).

I also might discuss some long-term goals, like how do I double my portfolio in 5 years? Or, we want to buy a vacation home to give away nights for free; how do we pull that off before we're 70?

Finally, I might also suggest a book to help frame our conversations (but that's because I love to read and love frameworks).

And that's it!

Should I Pay My Council?

Maybe. That'll depend on the relationships and time commitment. I could see paying $100 per person per meeting, which is more of a thank you than actual pay. You probably don't need to pay if you're a startup or a non-profit. You can also pay "in-kind" with a mastermind style council.

Broader Audience

I can also see benefits to sharing with a broader audience. You might skip the KPIs (or anything sensitive), but the rest of it is fair game. You can share it with family, friends, or anyone who shows interest! Missionaries do this all the time, and it's great to get their updates. Plus, you never know who might have a solution to one of your open questions. I like to write, but I know some people make YouTube video updates.

Next Steps

If this sounds intriguing, but you're unsure, start by answering those 8 questions and sharing them with someone you trust outside your daily grind. I'm confident it'll create a productive conversation to improve that thing that's important to you.

If that goes well, formalize it and add a few more people.

Oh, and give your group a cool name. Franklin Roosevelt called his council the "Brain Trust."