Developing high-value relationships is important at every stage of your company’s journey. Whether you are just beginning, or in a growth stage, there are many nuances to surrounding yourself with the best people and communicating with them effectively. Below are some of the top lessons from a group of experts on the importance of developing high-value relationships in today’s business world, as told through a panel from the 2019 Synapse Summit moderated by Sheryl Hunter, Esquire.
Panelist #1: Carrie Callahan
Managing Partner at Galliard Capital
It’s important to have team members who contribute different perspectives such as someone who is analytical, emotionally attuned, technical, product and distribution driven, etc. You should always look to improve your bench by surrounding yourself with those that encourage and challenge you. When possible, handpick your key employees. You may do so by maintaining a list of key skills, perspective, and qualities you are looking for, while also maintaining a roster of strong potential candidates that you get to know slowly. It is smart to assume that you may need them one day, especially because they may become the people who are the most loyal supporters of your vision.
You need to develop, identify, and build your network constantly. It is important to build networks both within your industry and outside of your industry to ensure that you get ideas that are not always “in the box.” Dynamic views can reduce “groupthink” and can help open up cracks that you may otherwise miss.
Be sure to have a person that will keep the technical team abreast of the market and help with positioning the story you want to convey. This goes back to having a breadth of people either in your company or in your network that bring different perspectives at all times. Do not surround yourself with too many “like-minded” people as it can create an imbalance and produce too many similar outcomes. Always remember to challenge your nucleus of people.
If someone is willing to step in and help (paid or unpaid) such as a consultant, legal expert, or business analyst, you need to take a leap of faith and truly listen to what they’re saying. Do not think that every step needs to be invented or reinvented, but instead use proven methods to help create efficiencies. Leaders have a higher probability of success when utilizing suggestions from people that have experience (even if it is not 100% right for your company), rather than trying to create new processes.
Panelist #2: Julia MacGregor-Peralta
President and CEO of Global Safety Management
Try to build a relationship with the person first, whether he or she becomes your mentor/advisor, a board member or part of your senior management team. You must align on culture, values and communication styles. There has to be chemistry in the relationship because if there isn’t it ends up being a distraction to the business and you wind up dealing with drama. Like a marriage, you’ll spend your time going to therapy (working through problems) without good communication skills. Surround yourself with people you like and respect. If you don’t respect the person, it’s not the right fit.
As you’re growing the business, sometimes you don’t have the time or the choice to build a relationship. For example, if you’re taking investment money, getting to know someone on a personal basis may not be possible. If you can’t build the relationship first, establishing ground rules for communication issues in advance is especially important. Sometimes you don’t know what disagreements you might have, so mutually agree to an action plan and determine a preferred method for communications for when times get tough. For example, if we aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, we will engage general counsel or designate someone on the board to help mediate. Also, form a social contract and set expectations so that you don’t make assumptions about each other’s actions. You have to be transparent and authentic, and honest, open communication builds trust.
This is especially true with mentors, investors and board members. Remember, this person isn’t there to solve the problem for you, so you can’t drop your problem in their lap like a package. Go to a meeting with an agenda and specific questions or challenges you have, and be sure to have take-away action items. The next time you meet, go back over the advice they gave, what you did and what worked or didn’t work. Your goal is to get ideas from their experience, but you have to own it.
Get comfortable with communicating early on when there are challenges or hurdles. Bad news doesn’t get better with time. If you are up front, you will likely solve the problem faster because you have one more person thinking about a resolution. When communicating with an employee, it’s better to start any conversation with a question. For example, “Have you considered,” or “Have you tried…?” Telling someone what to do isn’t respectful, and it puts them on the defensive. Let them own the problem and the solution. Also, be aware that people pick up your nonverbal communications before you even speak. Don’t be the one who breaks the communication and trust. Relationships are a dance. Don’t walk off the dance floor or step on their foot.
Panelist #3: Kailah Matyas
Managing Partner at Redwood Partners
Advisory Boards can be very valuable, helpful and cost-effective particularly for early-stage companies. It’s important to select executives who can be helpful to your business in a specific way (i.e., opening doors with customers or capital, developing a marketing plan, etc.). Having a specific remit/ask for each Advisor within a specific time frame is also important – and being very clear of the expectations upfront is recommended. Giving a small amount of equity in exchange for their support/work may also be what is expected (vs. cash compensation).
Once a company has scaled beyond a Series B round of funding, it is important to consider adding an Independent Board Member (one who is not a founder or investor) that is selected by the CEO/Founder (not the investors). There is a natural friction between founders and investors (each with vested interests that may not always be aligned). Having a “neutral” perspective on the Board is important to balancing different interests.
It will put you in a position of strength to identify and prioritize the hires you’ll need to make and also ensure alignment with your product/tech and go to market strategy. This will evolve and morph with the business (it should never be set in stone) and it is also something that potential investors will ask about (i.e. use of proceeds from funds raised).
By having a hiring plan in place, you can build relationships with the talent you meet or are connected with and be clear about your timeframe to make hires, even if you don’t have an immediate need. Never turn down the opportunity to connect with someone even if you don’t have an immediate opening – you should always be thinking about how you can continue to add great talent to your team.
Avoid C-level or SVP/EVP level titles early on. You want to give yourself room to promote or hire above someone as the company grows.
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