We have come to the end of our series on how a critical friend can help professionals and organisations maintain a continuous cycle of improvement. In this final post, Martin offers readers advice on how to set up the relationship with your chosen critical friend in just the right way.
Previous posts covered:
What is a critical friend?
Who might use a critical friend?
Can critical friends support teams as well as individuals?
How might I find a critical friend?
How do I get a critical friend arrangement in place?
âIf you'd like to read these posts in order, start here. But if you are ready to get started, read on MacDuff...
So, you've found your critical friend. You've interviewed a couple of likely candidates and selected the one you feel has the best fit of experience, skills, contacts and personal qualities. You feel comfortable that he (or she!) is going to challenge you and bring new ways of looking at things to your business. Above all, you feel that you can tell your critical friend the unvarnished truth - and that in return they will do likewise. You are ready to go.
As with anything new, bringing a critical friend into a firm for the first time may not be easy. So if youâre keen to introduce this approach into your firm, it may help to look for a time-bound opportunity. Indeed, the sort of opportunity where a critical friend would be helpful â such as a new project or a specific period of change, or to support someone new in a senior role. This way, the engagement need only be for a set period of time, during which the approach (and the specific critical friend) can be tested for its applicability to your firmâs culture and needs.
âYou may also need to explain the role to colleagues, if for example, the critical friend is to attend project meetings. Colleagues may be reassured to hear that the critical friend is there for their benefit and to ensure success of the project, not to supervise them or do the work for them. Indeed, the critical friend may wish to set this out an at early stage and to clarify other roles and responsibilities within the group.
The remit of a critical friend relationship should be defined at the outset, particularly if their role relates to a project team. With individual relationships, define specific areas that the discussions may focus upon, if only to give some structure to the start of the process â if the relationship develops, then the remit is likely to refine itself. It is a good indicator that you have found the right type of person to be a critical friend if they volunteer to take you through this defining process at the start.
The âright priceâ to pay for a critical friend will vary depending on the value and experience of the individual, the situation of the engagement, and the size of the firm and what it perceives to be value for money. But whatever the situation, it is better to agree a fixed fee, say on a monthly basis, rather than a simple hourly rate for time spent. The fixed fee should cover regular one-to-one meetings, but also come with the understanding that, within reason, the client can access the critical friend whenever they need, including ad hoc phone calls or Skype conversations between the usual meetings.
âWhatever the terms of your engagement with the critical friend, it is good practice to insist upon a mid term review - a pot half way in the project or agreed term when the critical friend sits down with his or her client to review progress against agreed criteria. Especially when the relationship is fairly new, it is a good idea for both parties to consider carefully what is working, what is not working and what could be done in a different way - in fact, to apply the same analytical improvement skills to the relationship that the critical friend will bring to your business.
In short, a critical friend will provide the perfect balance of unconditional support and unconditional critique that is hard to replicate within the business. Their focus is entirely on your success - and what you need to achieve to make that happen. From individual, to team, project or organisational board, the critical friend brings a wealth of experience, skills and contacts to bear for their client.
Richmonte Wells offers a full suite of executive individual and team development: coaching, succession planning, Board Development, Strategy and Away days, high performance team building, First 100 days and Lateral Hire Support. We also work with Senior and Managing Partners, CEOs and Practice Directors and their teams either through mentoring or Critical Friend support. If you would like to know more about Critical Friend support for you or your team, please contact Martin Griffiths.
âNB this blog post was originally published in a slightly different form as an article for Managing for Success in April 2017. If you'd like to see the full article, click the thumbnail that you will find here.
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