The old adage “You can’t see the forest for the trees” means, of course, that sometimes we are too close to the situation to evaluate it properly.
It also implies that we may become too focused on individual issues rather than being able to get above them to see the big picture. In either case, it indicates a problem with perspective.
Business owners often find that it is helpful to get other perspectives on their business opportunities and challenges. If you think that might be helpful for you, consider these ways to accomplish that.
1. Industry groups. Most industries have associations or peer groups that meet for conferences or training, share ideas and generally support each other. These groups provide the opportunity to learn from others who understand your particular challenges, because they have faced similar ones.
At the same time, the geographic dispersion of these groups usually means you can talk to non-competitors. The opportunity to hear other business owners’ perspectives on your issues can open up your thinking and keep you from repeating mistakes that others have made.
2. Business Owner groups. There are a number of consultant-led business owner groups that bring together owners from different industries. Only one business from each industry category is allowed in the same group. That gives owners freedom to discuss their issues without a competitor in the room. Members agree to keep the conversations confidential.
The idea is that, sometimes, people who don’t know your industry specifically may offer more creative suggestions or ask questions that cause you to think about your issue in a different way. The consultants who facilitate these meetings also offer insights from time to time. You can do an Internet search for “Business Owner Groups” in your geographic area to see what might be available.
3. Advisory Boards. While closely held businesses aren’t required to have an outside board of directors, many business owners find that an unofficial advisory board can be helpful. You can put together your own board from business people you respect like your CPA, banker and attorney.
The idea is to meet regularly with them as a group to discuss issues and challenges. Getting their different perspectives on your challenges and opportunities can help you think through things more fully. This can help you keep all of your advisers informed on what you’re working on, making them better able to help you in their individuals areas as well.
4. Employee Brainstorms. In some cases, business owners find it interesting to get the perspective of their employees as a way to broaden their thinking. Whether this is done as a group brainstorming session or as a one-on-one conversation, often the employee’s view can be helpful.
It’s easy to become disconnected from the front lines, and talking with employees who serve customers or work on your production lines can help you see things from another vantage point. It’s a point of view that should not be ignored.
5. Customer Focus Groups. It is often helpful to hear directly from your customers about what they like and don’t like about your company. Using an outside resource to develop and conduct a customer survey or focus group is a must.
You want your customers to feel free to share honestly, and the professionals know how to ask questions to get the most useful information, which is also critical. A trained focus group facilitator or survey master can help you interpret and draw conclusions from the information gathered. If you ask your customers for feedback, be sure to thank them for providing it.
Whether you use one of these suggestions or others you may think of, getting a fresh perspective can be critical to moving your company forward. Reach out. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. You might be surprised what you learn.