I have been a consultant for 23 years. I have worked for KPMG, Arthur Andersen, and Deloitte; been a contractor for several of the mid-tier firms; and had my own consulting/coaching business for 13 years. And yet when I was preparing to be part of a panel discussion on the value of an external perspective for executive decision-making and setting business strategy, I went blank.

I felt like I was losing it because I have been selling the value of an outside perspective for over two decades! Huh?

A actually did a search for a definition of “business strategy” because it seemed like a big umbrella that covered most of executive decision-making. This was helpful:

According to Harvard Business School Online’s Business Strategy course, an effective strategy is built around three key questions:

How can my business create value for customers?

How can my business create value for employees?

How can my business create value by collaborating with suppliers?

Many promising business initiatives don’t come to fruition because the company failed to build its strategy around value creation. Creativity is important in business, but a company won’t last without prioritizing value.

That definition did cover pretty much everything in a business, so I came up with several ways I have personally seen executives benefit from an outside perspective.

Avoiding the executive echo chamber

A senior executive needs to manage against confirmation bias and also against surrounding themselves with people who think exactly as they do. Subordinates who don’t want to rock the boat may be afraid to call the executive’s pet project a potential time and resource suck, or an obvious train wreck. 

Outside consultants often have the job of “calling the baby ugly” – or telling the executive that their pet project, business model, or business strategy isn’t working, or likely won’t work.

The executive’s staff may be afraid for their jobs or career progression, depending on the personality of the executive. 

Soliciting feedback from all functions and levels

Putting a process in place for 360-degree feedback can work well.

Also, executives should not assume that the best information about the current state of the business will come from senior managers. Executives should actively solicit and implement processes for collecting the experiences of employees on the front lines, including sales and customer service. 

Supporting the executive 

It’s lonely at the top. Executives need to support themselves personally and professionally for optimal decision-making. I think it is helpful for them to work with a professional coach who only has their best interest in mind.

I also recommend they connect with other executives in their industry or another industry to brainstorm solutions and normalize conversations about the struggles and pressures of being at the top. 

Nobody makes good decisions when they are in a state of anxiety or extreme stress. There will always be some level of stress, but executives who actively seek outside perspectives for all aspects of the business and themselves will be the leaders who make the best decisions. 

Photo by Rodeo Project Management Software on Unsplash