Owners Are Icebergs: How to Unlock Hidden Potential

Institutional owners are like icebergs. You can really only see what’s on the surface.

The tip of the iceberg is all they’re making visible to you.

This isn’t because they’re hiding their wish-list from you — it’s because it simply doesn’t occur to them that you can help them with what’s under the surface.

I go into meetings assuming that there is a lot more going on than is being said. For example, if I hear a university is trying to bring in $200 million over five years, I’m going to assume it’s probably five times that amount. Not because they’re hiding the truth from me, but because I know in the context of what they think I came to talk about, they’re sharing the amount they’re comfortable with sharing.

What helps us see under the surface of the water to the mass of the iceberg underneath is a different line of questioning. Through these different types of questions, we try to help the owner tap into their bigger vision, and think beyond the project at hand. For example, we ask them questions around what they’re trying to do to compete and what they really want to accomplish as an institution.

From there, we dig deeper to get them to open up. For a university, the deeper questions might be, How are you planning to get more out-of-state students? How are you going to get into more research activities? How are you going to ramp up the quality of your teaching? These are different kinds of questions than a normal service provider would ask — but they open everything up. The dynamic changes.

When a service provider does this, they get the opportunity to see the owner’s world through a new lens. When investors experience this interaction, they begin to see that there’s more than one transaction possible. Everyone starts to see things in terms of a lasting accounts, not just how they can cut a deal right now.

So what are the questions, and why isn’t everyone asking them?

What’s Getting in the Way of Seeing the Full Potential

The better question is: What gets in the way of service providers asking these deeper questions on their own, without a facilitator like RESET?


Habits are the number one reason service providers don’t ask different questions and start to see the full potential of what they could do with institutions and owners.

The service providers we work with are incredibly intelligent and competent in what they do, but they’re stuck in old patterns when it comes to asking owners the right questions. Service providers naturally think in linear terms, and focus on asking owners about what their next project is, or what their wish-list is.

They’re after results because they genuinely want to help.

This isn’t a bad thing. But it’s not actually helpful.

This linear line of questioning leads to linear thinking on the owner’s and investor’s part as well. The owner starts to go down the list of what they can afford, what they can sell internally and within their constituencies. And the investor just wants to know if this is going to work or not.

No one — not service providers, owners or investors — knows how to start a more helpful discussion.

So that’s initially where we come in. We start by facilitating healthier discussion.

No Magic Necessary: Seeing Potential Is a Teachable Skill

We never want to stop at facilitation. What we do isn’t magic. Yes, it requires emotional intelligence — but what we do can be taught. This is why we’re coaches, not mediators. We believe in your ability to facilitate these healthier, more valuable discussions for yourself.

We model the skills, then we help you to think differently — starting with helping you see exactly how you’re trapped in your habits, so you can break that trap permanently. And that’s the hard part. Everyone we work with is intelligent and competent … and that intelligence and competence are exactly what’s getting in the way. They think, “Well, it’s worked up to this point, so it should keep working!”

At some point, what worked before stops working. Always.

It’s like in my favorite movie, Moneyball. The Oakland Athletics were a low-budget team, and they were competing with the New York Yankees. They simply couldn’t compete the same way the Yankees could — they didn’t have the same resources. They had to change the way they saw progress in a sport that’s been around for more than a century.

It’s the same in scope development. Owners fall back on the traditional processes because that’s the way things have always been done — they send out requests for proposals, they go fishing in the missile of the lake to see who can help them. When a service provider comes along that asks different questions and starts to help them look for solutions, entirely new possibilities emerge for everyone.

The Bottom Line

The traditional RFP process isn’t a bad thing … it’s just not a very helpful thing to stay within those parameters for the long term.

Service providers don’t just want to get the work, they want to help the client. Owners want to do the right thing, but they’re trying to be responsible to their constituents and stakeholders. Investors, no matter how we try to paint them, just want their money to be used as leverage in a longer-term way. Once you start thinking beyond the RFP, once you start really connecting, things get exciting. You start doing something that’s pretty compelling. You chase fewer projects and end up with more valuable accounts. You don’t just get one piece of scope, you create scope in a meaningful, two-way partnership.

If you’re interested in learning more how we facilitate these three-way discussions between owners, service providers, and investors, stop by our office or find us online at We’d love to tell you more.


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