How often have the smaller Indigenous organisation been in this experience:
They are looking for an advisor and so they look around or they advertise, or someone approaches them because of what they are doing that has got into the news. The person they are in contact with looks "the goods".
They talk well; they seem respectful; they give advice that seems carefully considered. In fact, some of that advice is pretty spot on.
They gain the trust and confidence of the Board or of the people. Pretty soon, they're reliable to have around and they seem to be trustworthy.
Soon they are employed, or they consult on an almost full-time basis, always appearing and smiling and helping.
Then, one day, either they are gone along with all the money they were paid (or worse), or people realise that this person hasn't really helped them but in that time have got their grips into the organisation and have almost total control of it.
It is time Indigenous organisations professionalized the way they hire and choose advisors and "managers' who are "too good to be true".
I know of a case where a professional manager from Sydney was on holiday in this regional town and due to some third party connections, he was put in touch with the local Native Title corporation.
He seemed so helpful, at first taking time from his holidays to attend meetings and advise them on financial matters they were having trouble with. After all, he used to be the Chief Financial Officer of a big Sydney public company, his experience was so helpful.
Even after he returned to Sydney he kept in touch with the Chairman and gave advice over email. Over the next few months, he returned on more "holidays" and soon he was offered a job as the CEO.
Very modestly he declined, saying that the CEO role should go to an Indigenous person - but while that was being set up he would be glad to act as "General Manager".
He remained General Manager for 2 years and was paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year and in that time ran the organisation in such a way that they ruined its credibility and reputation in the town, ran down its finances, and implemented processes that led to a horrible culture within the office. The only thing he did not do was steal, and with his level of salary paid for the level of his performance, even that is a mot question.
So, this "professional" who was the CFO in a big company that didn't need the job and only helped in his free time left Sydney and his supposedly important job, stayed in that regional town for two years and was paid top dollar.
As if to emphasise that he was here to stay, at the end of his term he did not return to Sydney to his "high-paying" important job, but stayed in the region and went to work for another corporation. He is still there.
Laying the story out in this way, you have to ask a number of questions that seem so obvious now:
- If he was in such an important high-paying job, why did he give it up to move to the regional town? A tree-change? Hmmm.
- If he was from such a high-powered role and only wanted to help, why was he accepting a quarter of a million-dollar salary?
- If he was calling himself a General Manager because the CEO "should be an Indigenous person", why did it take over 2 years to find an Indigenous CEO and why had he done nothing to progress that?
- If he was from such a prominent and successful role, why did he not return to Sydney to go back to his high-paying job?
After the event, these things are like writing on the wall.
Unfortunately, regional areas and Indigenous corporations based in those areas will attract people who are failures elsewhere. The honest truth is that successful people live where the jobs, the promotions, their careers and their lives are - in the cities.
Very rarely might someone who really wanted a sea-change or a tree-change actually give up a high-flying career to move to a regional town and instead of semi-retiring with their savings actually give up their time to help a not-for-profit or Indigenous corporation because they believe in the cause. All kudos to these rare people who do exist.
Most however are carpet baggers who have not been able to make it and gifted with the gift of the gab, talk their way into responsible positions to gradually destroy or take advantage of their employers.
It is indeed time for Indigenous corporations to be totally professional in choosing their advisors and their non-local employees.
That means a professional process of due diligence is required.
If there is a lack of capacity in research and interview, then hire a national recruitment agent to do it for you. They can research a person's background, interview previous employers and colleagues, and dig deep to get into the real person. They have interview techniques that can test out not only a person's qualifications and experience but their character and personality.
The people working in, or on the Boards of these organisations are usually experts in the field of the organisation or cultural seniors but there are so many aspects of running an organisation where you need corporate and commercial experts, or at the very least people who are experienced enough to lead you to the right experts.
From time to time, at the very least, you will need a good accountant, a good lawyer, perhaps an IT guy or someone who knows about hiring staff, maybe even a good leasing agent or a finance broker.
But how do you find them - and even more importantly, how do you find a good one?
The best way is to reach out to the right people - after you have checked with other organisations on people they can trust. You can also go through a checklist process to make sure that you ask the right questions.
You can download a free checklist here on How To Find A Good Adviser Or Consultant, prepared by our online business called Teik Oh Dot Com.
Your adviser's skill and experience are important, sure. But it's even more important that you get along with them.
You may discuss your financial affairs with a really good accountant - but if you can't understand what they are saying to you, how can you use their experience?
Sitting in front of the best lawyer is what you hope for, but if you're not sure you can trust what they are saying, you will not follow their advice.
Most people will choose an adviser based on price - but the price is not always right. Their low price might be a reflection of their lack of experience. You get what you pay for. So how do you choose?
This video training - also from Teik Oh Dot Com - is a good starting place about how to look for a good advisor:-
Here are some basics:-
- Check that your personalities match - can you get along with them? Do they communicate well or are they always using technical terms you don't understand?
- Is their service suitable for you? As a very small business, perhaps you don't need the services of an international full-service law firm but only need the services of the neighbourhood commercial lawyers.
- Ask how they will interact with you - will it be through the telephone, email or face to face? Which suits you?
- Then go through a series of checks to make sure that their service - and the way they do business - suits you, including price.
Remember, good advisers shouldn't cost you money - good ones make you money or save you money.
Make sure you do your "due diligence" and find a good one.
It's never too late to learn how to find the right person!