Back when he was a teen, my son advised me to buy stock in Apple. He was no stock market whiz kid, though, so I didn’t heed his advice. Big mistake on my part, but if there’s one thing I know about taking advice, it’s that the person giving it matters.
Not that good advice can’t come from just about anywhere. People from all levels of your organization, as well as your customers or clients, can and should be providing you with feedback and guidance. In the retail world, the store clerk might know of a product that customers are craving, while products you’ve been pushing are sitting on a dusty shelf. At GE Transportation, we knew how to build the products, but our customers knew what it took to run them. At GE Power Systems, some of our customers knew more about servicing our turbines than we did. Continuous feedback, I’ve found, whether from a store clerk, a railroad executive or a service engineer, can help improve business performance.
But no matter who is giving the advice, here are some questions to ask yourself:
• What is the track record of the advice givers? If they have implemented their own advice, was it successful? (And if they haven’t implemented it, why not?)
• Do they have an agenda? What motives might they have to try to persuade you to act in a certain way?
• What are your instincts telling you? If the advice “feels” wrong, the end result may be harmful – to you or your business.
• Can you be authentic when implementing the advice? If you are uncomfortable, that discomfort will show.
• Does the recommendation fit your company’s culture? If it seems out of character, it probably is.
• Is the timing right? You receive advice your whole life – first from parents, then friends, and then co-workers – but the key is to adapt and localize their ideas to your particular situation or environment. Good advice improperly timed can backfire.
• Is the advice giver an expert? If so, listen up. Know your own skill set and take advice from those around you who have knowledge that is different from your own.
We love the results, but hate the way you get it.
Over my 45-plus years in business, I obviously have received a lot of advice, some good and some not so good. Like most of us, though, even the bad advice taught me something – what not to do.
One of my bosses, we’ll call him “John,” ran our company with an iron fist. With him, every issue was a nail, and he wanted to be the hammer. This gestapo style of management was popular in the 1970s, but I didn’t like it, and I told him so. “John,” I said, “about 80% of what you do is great – your granularity and attention to specifics are impressive – but I don’t want to emulate the other 20%.”
Although John ran a successful company, he managed mostly through fear and intimidation. I learned from him to pay great attention to detail, but not to gather that detail by bullying and threatening. I’ve seen abusive people like this throughout my career, and when I can, I call them on it.
Listen, learn and lead.
The good news is that many people are coachable. Instead of quickly discarding an employee, why not offer advice – and then watch for improvement? In general, people who seek advice, own it and implement it tend to be pretty successful.
Early in my career I was advised to think bigger, take more risks and keep setting the bar higher. I knew I might make mistakes in the process; people who do things make mistakes. But the worst mistake of all, I realized, was to do nothing. Instead, I focused on the job itself – including the increased opportunities and accountability that went with it – rather than on the size of the office or the title of the position. By following that advice, I am sure I achieved more than I ever would have by simply settling into each job. I continue to challenge myself today, and not because I’m being told to do so. It’s my work ethic, but one I learned early on. Good advice, that.
The bottom line through all this is to know yourself, and the people who work with you. Be open to feedback, but make your own determinations – because you’re the best person to decide what’s right for you.
Bob Nardelli has more than 100,000 followers on LinkedIn. During his 45 years in the business world, he has grown the sales and profits of a number of multi-national corporations including the General Electric Co. and The Home Depot, and he helped save Chrysler and its iconic brands when the American auto industry began to collapse. In addition to his board and volunteer service, Bob is the founder of XLR-8, LLC, Investment & Advisory Co., which helps companies identify weaknesses and improve performance.