Sometimes one just has to blog, particularly when something just phases or amazes you enough to put fingers to keys. I’ve just telephoned one of my former clients, to be told by reception that “he doesn’t take calls”. Now, I’ll call his mobile and reach him there, so no drama. So here’s the rub.
Reception didn’t even know who I was. They didn’t even bother to ask, and just offered to give me my client’s email address. I could have been anyone, from the hard-nosed pushy salesperson to the boss of one of the divisions who just happened not to have this guy’s internal or direct number. OK, so most people we’d like to speak to already have our contact details, but not always. You could be turning away someone important, or making it difficult for them to get hold of you.
So why my horror, disgust and shock? It’s because this person was the HR Director, running a (supposedly) people-centric function, that’s also gaining a worrying reputation for being difficult to engage and offering limited #value. Now HR Directors can’t take many and all of the calls. But if they (and, by association, their function) want to be seen as approachable, they should at least find out what someone wants before they shut them down or close them off. Wait before they build a protective wall, or dig a moat around them. And don’t give reception the message that they don’t take any calls. It makes them seem aloof and arrogant. Maybe they are, but they sure as hell don’t want that reputation to stick. Rant finished. I’m over it now!
It’s nice to be headhunted. It happens to me reasonably often and, despite loving what I do, I’m always happy to talk. You never know when a great opportunity will emerge, and I sometimes refer recruiters to those in my expanding network. It’s part of being a “link-man” (a role I relish).
But it’s funny how every conversation makes me think of @meritology. This morning I had a quick chat, with a very bright researcher, about a very big role. Two things struck me about the call:
- They were finding out whether I could do the job. I was trying to find out about the job. The written brief was heavy on content (targets and numbers mainly) and light on context. It told me very little about the company, in terms of its culture or why it is confidently adopting such a high-growth strategy. So I didn’t glean much from the call. Maybe the researcher was poorly briefed, but we certainly didn’t connect. It felt a much too one-sided call, and that switched me off.
- There was little information about the CEO (the leader and the boss in this situation). All I gained was that he is “bright and went to Harvard’. Why would they mention that? It must be because having been to Harvard automatically makes him destined for success, a great guy, and someone with whom I’d really get along. Err, no actually. I’ve nothing against Harvard, or indeed any of the high-quality schools in the US. I just haven’t experienced any of them, so it’s hard to make any judgement either way.
So I find myself having only the following information (or assumptions) to work on – it’s a high-growth role, in an bluntly target-driven organisation I know little about, working for someone who has a completely different background to me. On balance, it’s looking like a “no” – not something I’d ever like to pursue.
What’s my fundamental point? If you’re trying to get a person interested in something, think about what would appeal to them. Get off your standard script, and have a real conversation. Work out their drivers and motivators, and explain things in their terms. And be careful what you drop into conversation – having been to Harvard is laudable, but it doesn’t light rockets and fireworks in my mind. I don’t really care. There are brilliant people here, there and everywhere.
Good afternoon. Great afternoon actually. I’m about to go for a walk in the Henley hills, and make the most of the glorious weather – I swear we have a micro-climate here. It always seems to be sunny by the river.
But like a dam, something interrupted my flow. I’ve just received a LinkedIn invitation. No surprise there, as I have fast-approaching a thousand connections. But this invitation is from someone I haven’t yet met. Now, hang on a minute! We’re scheduled to meet but, until we do, how would I know you’re going to be valuable (and me to you)? Shouldn’t we establish that first, before we become bosom business buddies?
This might be my shortest-ever blog, because I just have one piece of crisp and clear advice. Don’t assume you’re going to be of #value to someone. Focus on proving you add #value to them. And only then should you try to move your business relationship to the next level. Sometimes the “too fast, too soon” thing turns into a great relationship. But more often it fizzles out before it really gets going, or ends in a messy divorce.
Now there’s a cheery thought for a sunny day. Maybe I do need that walk…
For my speaking engagement on Friday, I’m carefully reading the information about the guests (looking for clues and cues about theming the talk, and how much risk to take with the visuals and script). One of the guests starts their profile with “dropped out of high school at 16 to set up his first business”. Is that really the right headline for a professional profile? You won’t be surprised to hear that this person has an entrepreneurial background, and having dropped out of school is almost a badge of honour for those who have started their own business. After all, dropping out of Harvard never did Bill Gates any harm!
But what if you don’t personally have an entrepreneurial background? Will you automatically make the link that dropping out of school made this person a better entrepreneur? That having to fight to grow a business (without the extra knowledge and elevated status a higher education would bring) taught him toughness, resilience and made him what he is today? Or are we less empathetic to entrepreneurs, and see him as a drop out who had to find something else to do, which is a brutal but possible way to look at his profile?
My father was an entrepreneur. He didn’t flunk school, but he left at sixteen and went to work. And worked hard; including buying a beaten-up car (and £50 of stock) and hitting the road to make a living. So I think I have some appreciation of the mindset of an entrepreneur, and I’m thinking positively about this guest. But if I didn’t have that life story, might I just think he was a dropout?
My message is this – be careful with how you project yourself and write your profile. If something helps to better tell your story, then make the point – but link it to the #value the experience (or fact or feature) brings to the reader. In this case, what’s implicit is that my guest can help other entrepreneurial businesses grow, because he’s been through the pain and excitement of that journey. And if you do make the link to #value, then wear that badge with pride. But be explicit – don’t keep the reader guessing how a perceived negative leads to a positive outcome.
We’re in the world of weasel words and wasted waffle. Yet behind the blarney and bluster, people often make interesting points, or have something important to say. But it’s often lost in a spurge and flurry of letters, syllables, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and essays. And yes, that was intentionally a load of waffle, and I’m sure you get the idea!
Sometimes I wonder whether it’s accidental or deliberate. Do people fail to hear how empty they sound, or have they really chosen these words in the hope of demonstrating what’s good about their business (or their perspective on life)?
I am fascinated by the notion of #value, and my perception that:
- some great people don’t realise their worth,
- many of the best ideas are spoiled by nervous babble, and
- most of the weak propositions are explained in far too many words.
As Malcolm S. Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, once said “too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are”.
My advice is to work hard on understanding your #value, and get clear in your own mind what makes you #distinctive and different. Then you need to practice how to explain that value, in a punchy and compelling way. Otherwise you end up in a situation where you have a good idea, a brilliant service or powerful solution but can’t explain it properly. Or worse still, you’re seen as someone who doesn’t get to the point.
Here’s an example – this week I spoke at length to someone with an impressive international background, a decent track record and a novel way of delivering learning. Unfortunately they (in my opinion very indulgently) spent 45 minutes taking me through a quirky framework of loosely-connected concepts. We never really recovered from a short exercise that wasn’t explained very well. Believe me, I tried to see the sense (what a waste of time otherwise) but the discussion went nowhere. In the end, I had to politely ask them to move on to something more concrete. And their reaction seemed to be a mixture of “surprised’ and “insulted`’, because I had interrupted their flow.
So the next time you witness someone struggling to articulate their value, please be patient, calming and encouraging. Sometimes it’s lack of experience that makes people hesitate and stutter, and often you’ll find brilliance there. But if an experienced and worldly person starts to waffle, just politely shut them up. Come on, I don’t have all day. Just get to the point.
Like everyone else, I feel like sometimes I do a brilliant job, mostly I’m pretty good, and occasionally I’m plain lousy. But it never ceases to amaze me how, when I’m in control/in the zone/in the moment, how easily I can improve my own performance. And how I can get the best out of other people. Here’s an example.
I run the member services and learning event division of Henley Business School. We are always looking for new speakers to lead our events. And this week I met a really interesting one but, if I’d judged him on the first few minutes of our conversation, we wouldn’t be working together. First impressions were OK, but I was struggling to see how he would fit with what I do. It took quite a while before we made a connection and found an event angle he’s gone away to turn into a programme. And it’s going to be #distinctive and different, and I’m excited already!
Here were my learnings from this example. They are all about “finding the fabulous”.
- Accept that it’s your job to get the best from people. You’ve failed if you don’t, and life is so much more rewarding when you do.
- Ignore your first impressions, at least sometimes. Test whether you are right, by giving people the time to show their #value.
- Suspend disbelief (meaning putting aside your doubt or skepticism) for long enough to hear out someone’s story. Because eventually you’ll find a connection. And connected people create great ideas.
Maybe I’m smugly saying I did a great job with this guy. Or maybe he worked on me, until we found that great idea. I don’t know. And I don’t care. Either way we’re on to something. And it’s so motivating when you end up finding the fabulous. You wake up smiling at 05.00, and have to blog about it. And, for me, that’s a wonderful start to the day.
Here’s my #thoughtfortheday. Waking very early (insomnia, or an active brain, I’m never quite sure) I dimmed the ipad light and started looking for new books about #value and #success. You won’t be surprised to hear that there are definitely hundreds, and probably thousands. Even when I search for only those rated 4.5 stars and above (on Kindle), there are loads. Given that you’re not in a position to read as many business books as me ((big assumption, but it’s kind-of my job), let me tell you what I found.
Whilst the majority of authors are advocating some lifestyle changes, clever ways to generate ideas, and learning techniques for standing out, much of their work seems pretty complicated. Probably more importantly, each of the “best-rated” books seems to have at least one “golden nugget”; an idea that made me concentrate and really take notice. But there isn’t one place that curates all this brilliant knowledge, and maybe that’s a book for me to write.
But here’s what really stuck in my mind. Many of the books are of the “buy at the airport”, self-help variety. They focus on making you the best in the world. Maybe that’s what sells books, but I’m not much interested. Meritology’s approach is more earthy and gritty – we’re interested in how people #standout in their context, alongside their peers and against their competitors. And it’s all relative. Everything in life is relative, because we all look at things from different perspectives. Perspectives depend on background, experience, intentions and objectives.
In the world of being #standout, your #value and #success is measured against what’s around you. For example, if you’re a star in a team of average players then you’ll #standout. If you’re brilliant in an industry sector that doesn’t attract the best talent, your clients will love you (some personal experience coming out there). And if you’re the best on a given day, and at a significant time, then you’ll get the gig or the deal.
So don’t obsess about being the best. Focus on being the best you can be. If life is an athletics race, remember you only have to be a vest-breadth ahead of the other runners. It’s not always about breaking a world record.