Do you know, or do you think you know?

One of my mentors early on in business tough me this very important question: “do you know, or do you think you know”. The answer to that is key in many areas of business. It is something that you need to constantly be asking of yourself. But today, I’ll brush back on my discussions about building a team of advisers. You need to surround yourself with people who know that they know what they’re doing. How often do we get caught in “not knowing what we didn’t know”. We cannot afford that of our advisers who we are paying (or should be paying) good money for. (On an side, you should be paying your advisers at least twice as much as you are charging our clients!)

Now the big quandary is that you are paying them to know what you don’t, so how do you determine that they know more about something that you don’t know about? Double-talk, sounds like it. So how can you really know this. I was watching a program on PBS the other day about wealth management, it just happened to be on. Some of what they guy had to say made a lot of sense, other parts didn’t. But what I took away was how he addressed this very problem – how do you know your adviser knows his stuff.

The answer is simple, ask plenty of open ended questions and judge how he responds. The content is less valuable then how… For example, what is the most recent law change, that they know of, which affects their role. For example, the case of us choosing an HR attorney (back in 2006), what law has recently changed that affects employer/employee relations. They should be able to name something specific, that they can explain in layman’s terms and note that it was recently (say the last 3 months or so). When I spoke with our attorney recently, I brought up that I noticed that the Court of Appeals of California ruled that employers are not required ensure employees take their breaks, but rather that they are only required to ensure that the break is available and cannot prevent or dissuade them from taking their breaks. This was a landfall ruling for employers. When I brought this up, my attorney mention, that yes, it was a big victory for employers, but it really doesn’t mean a whole lot until it is turned into law, which is what it is in the course of doing right now. You need to have people on your team that are more informed about the current issues than you are.

Another couple of questions to as are:

  • How to you keep yourself up-to-date in your trade?
  • What is the last conference/seminar you attended?
  • When was your last certification/credential/etc?
  • When was the last time you worked with a client with a similar situation as mine? (This would be a great one to ask your medical doctor next time!)
  • What was the last time you turned away a client because their need did not match up with your ability?

Those are challenging questions to ask your advisers — or candidates. They are also challenging questions we need to honestly ask ourselves for our own business.

There is a lot of people who “practice” in their area of employment — do you really want to be “practiced” upon? There is no perfect advisor out there for you, but there are a lot of bad choices. A lot of people who “think” they know what they’re doing. We call those interns, or journeyman, or whatever. There is a place for them, and they may be a part of your team in some areas. But you also need your fair share of experienced people on your team, someone to pickup the slack. A good example may be this…Dancing…

In dancing, there is a leader and a follower — they are typically separated out by gender roles, but not always. My wife and I have very little experience dancing and can fumble through a lot of things, more on my end then hers. We trying a free private ballroom dancing session. It was amazing, when either of us danced with the pro, we did fine. But when we danced with each other it seems to go far worse. We did get through it, but they key was when we were with the pro, one of us knew what was going on. When neither of us had a clue, it fell apart. The same goes for your team. If at least one of you is a pro, they can acknowledge the deficiencies of a team member and help bring them up to speed. But when your team is full of amateurs, you can get into trouble quick. Yes you can fumble through it, but the mistakes may be costly.

Make sure you have more pro’s then amateurs on your team. If you are an amateur at business, then you need to hire a few pros. If you’re a pro, then perhaps an amateur or two may be an acceptable liability for you. But in the beginning, don’t skimp on experience!