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.
Having visited the CIPD conference in London a few months ago, and many events and conferences since, something has been bothering me. At the CIPD, I was impressed by the variety of companies exhibiting (including my own Henley Business School). And it confirmed something interesting about the creation of a value proposition – a value proposition that makes a particular company #standout.
It was pretty obvious that the bigger the company, the less #distinctive the proposition. The smaller the company, the more #distinctive they appeared. And by #distinctive, I’m talking about the visuals, the artwork, the brochures, the words and even the people. So why would this be so? Why would bigger companies fail to differentiate themselves? OK, I admit there are lots of reasons, and I am going to focus on just one.
In many situations, big companies have the edge. It’s clear that when:
- service is about handling volume, or
- complex relationships require many interactions between people, or
- when there is a multi-site environment
many hands indeed make light work. You need many people involved, to deliver the process or service to your chosen markets. Effectively. Efficiently. Economically.
But when it comes to articulating value, many hands make heavy work. Smaller companies have fewer of their own people to convince, and usually someone senior that “birthed the baby” and has a strong view on how their business should be positioned. Bigger companies have structures, systems, stakeholders and sensibilities. These need to be respected. And that takes time, and means lots of people to involve in developing your value proposition.
Getting lots of people involved in defining the value your company offers (and creating your value proposition) makes it tough to produce something distinctive. Different people have different perceptions as to what makes your company valuable to its customers (and they want their view heard). Others lack the bravery to use the emotive language that describes your true points of difference, afraid that shareholders or the general public will react badly to that (think of the recent UK elections, if you want evidence of how fear can mute the debate and make the main parties seem spookily similar, at national and local level). And that’s before you wonder whether enough decision-makers have the superior language capability needed, to articulate company value in a #distinctive way that everyone understands. That’s a tough ask…
So if you involve lots of people in defining your value, it’ll be heavy and hard work. And the result is that you’ll probably take the safe route. Customers will be eating vanilla ice-cream. Now there are some wonderful varieties of vanilla ice-cream. The challenge is how you get people to taste yours, when all vanilla sounds and looks the same.
But you have to involve your people, right? You need to be seen to do that – to ask for opinions, and generate ideas. And you should be doing that – you want the people involved that see value like a child they nurture. I’m in complete agreement, but its all about when. When should you ask your people for their input? My recommendation is simple. Involve as many people you like in focus groups or meetings to debate your value. Do that early in the process. And listen for the language your people use. Make sure you note and record their precise words and expressions, as they explain how they deliver value to customers (or tell you what they want to do differently). Feel their emotion. Make sure you use lots of that language in your value proposition (but don’t make it wordy). And re-tell their stories. Share their anecdotes.
But never ask a committee to develop the value proposition itself. Otherwise you’ll end up with something pretty neutral. A compromise. A consensus. And collateral (like the exhibition stand) that looks “me too” and “samey”. Instead choose a deliberately diverse group of people and bring them together. People that “get” what you’re trying to do. And lock yourselves in a room. Hire a facilitator and illustrator. And don’t come out until you’re finished. You’ll be amazed by the great results.
That becomes your value proposition. The ice-cream flavour will be at least neapolitan. Or you may have created a whole new flavour. And check out the Dorset Ice Cream @dorseticecream shop in Weymouth. 17 flavours of ice cream, and 7 sorbets. But they #standout because the flavours are #distinctive. That’s what draws in the customer. And my favourite’s the Pimm’s flavour sorbet. You really have to try it…
OK, so a slightly flippant post with a serious point. I run The Henley Partnership @Henley_HP for Henley Business School. During our masterclass events, I tweet the insights created, interesting observations and information offered. And I do this carefully, and thoughtfully.
It’s always good to get feedback, and useful to just step back – taking a moment to pause and reflect on your own personal and professional value. In anything you are doing. And in everything you are doing. That sounds a really “deep and meaningful” remark, and I don’t mean you should question the fundamentals of your being (why you are here on this earth, what you are here to do, that kind of thing). I mean something much more straightforward. You need to question the value of the work that you do, and the way that you do it.
So my moment to pause and reflect was on Tuesday, as I was happily tweeting away during one of our fabulous events. An alert popped up, saying that the MD of Scandinavian consulting business had followed me on Twitter. Nothing extraordinary there. I’m deliberately trying to increase my followers at senior director level. Imagine my surprise when the next alert said I’d been followed by someone whose twitter name includes the legendary cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants. Ok, so “legendary” is perhaps an exaggeration, but I remember many evenings watching Spongebob with my young son. And there was a recent film made about him (can a sponge be a “him”?)
My point is simple. When you get feedback, make sure you listen. Never stop questioning and challenging your value. Was this telling me my tweets are too trivial? Not serious enough? A bit lightweight? Was that why I’d attracted SpongeBob? I spent a good half hour looking back at my tweets, checking that they were right for my customers and my audience. And I still can’t work out what attracted SpongeBob. Maybe the MD of the consulting firm could tell me! But I am happy that my tweets are adding value. Happy that, with a few refinements, they can be better. And happy that I took time out to ask myself those questions. I’d recommend you do the same.