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Are We in the Way?

A friend of mine and I were discussing movies recently. He mentioned that he had a bunch of free movie passes. When I asked where he got them, he said “They gave them to me at work, supposedly for doing my job. I’d really rather they just got out of my way and let me do my job better.” By better, I’m pretty sure he meant fewer bureaucratic and operational hassles like unnecessary meetings, mountainous paperwork, and inflexible processes that may have no reason for being. Look around your firm and see if you have any of that. I'll bet you do.

I wonder if we’re missing the point by rewarding people “just for doing their jobs”, as my friend says. Would our time be better spent finding ways to let people do their jobs better? Seems to me we’d want to ask the people who work for us to define “better”, and then take their suggestions to heart. We would want to study seriously what operational evolutions need to occur to make our firms truly user friendly. This kind of thinking goes way beyond the typical reward systems we see in most firms.

This is not to suggest that small rewards and recognitions should disappear. However, it would be useful to think more broadly. We’re now dealing with young professionals who have been rewarded all their lives and readily recognize false praise. Whatever we do in the way of incentive and recognition, we would be wise to make it genuine and meaningful to recipients. Then we ought to get out of the way and let them do their best.

Think Like Nike

Recently I attended a meeting where participants were trying to decide whether to pursue a particular marketing strategy, and were debating the merits of different approaches. I found myself saying this: “Either of these tactics will work. While one may be more effective than the other, neither one is wrong, and neither one will damage your chances for success. What will damage your chances for success is doing nothing.”

That statement reflects my strong bias toward action when it comes to marketing. Strategy is certainly important, and planning is critical, because we must know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

It seems, however, that otherwise smart people too often get stuck: discuss, debate, ponder. Then ponder some more. Nothing happens. Eventually, good ideas die from lack of attention and people lose interest in marketing. They go back to the familiarity of cranking out billable time, doing work assigned by others, and all too often living unfulfilled professional lives.

Sometimes people just think too long about things, sort of an analysis paralysis. I have worked with partners who say, “Let me think about that some more. I'll get back to you.” I don’t know if they’re truly trying to make a good idea better, or if they’re trying to control processes and the flow of information, or if they believe that thinking something to death is a substitute for action. It doesn’t really matter what they're thinking, though, because the end result is the same. Nothing gets done.

The key to breaking out of this mental trap is to make a decision and act on it. For example, call a client just to see how he or she is doing. Reconnect with referral sources. Send an article of interest to a new contact. Go to a community gathering and shake a few hands. There are so many small things you can do that involve almost no risk and could have great upside potential. The best thing about marketing is it’s hard to make a really significant mistake, as long as you're making decisions and following them up with action.

So get yourself and your team off the dime. Make a decision. Move forward.

Just do it.

Remember: We're All Human

Life as a marketing consultant is never dull. I learn something from just about every encounter with clients. Recently, a lawyer wrote an email where he stated that his practice area had “cases, not clients”. Many of his clients are large corporate institutions; presumably, the individual players within the institutions change regularly. Hence, his theory.

I disagree with him. If you accept the argument that effective business development is a function of finding, creating, and sustaining relationships, you really can’t operate under the cases-not-clients axiom. It’s difficult to have a relationship with a legal matter or an accounting file. To depersonalize a client in this way is to discredit the human beings in a relationship. This is true even if your relationships are with individuals who are simply cogs in a large institutional machine, and even if those cogs are replaced regularly. Certainly it’s frustrating when your contacts in a client’s office leave the company, but it’s just the nature of things. You must not allow yourself to become callous, and you must remain open to developing new relationships with old clients.

If you want to be a provider of extraordinary client service (not to mention a decent human being), always think about the human who is on the other side of the table or on the receiving end of your phone calls, letters, and emails. Put yourself in his or her shoes for a moment or two, and decide whether you like what you are experiencing from their perspective.

Define Your Culture

Most of my clients are searching for ways to differentiate themselves from competitors. They are beginning to understand the value of differentiation as it relates to business development, recruiting, and retention. You can begin the differentiation conversation by asking two questions within your firm:

  1. Who are we?
  2. What do we stand for?

The answers to these questions will help you understand your culture as it is today, and will serve as an excellent starting point for your firm’s strategic development. You can do something as simple as an email posing the questions to everyone or you can take a more in-depth approach by gathering the willing together to discuss your culture.

Either way, you are likely to glean useful information. If you can codify the multiple answers into a clear statement, you can use it as a differentiator in your business development, recruiting, and retention strategies.

Sometimes the simplest questions yield the most complex answers, and that’s useful. You want to generate awareness and understanding of this large issue. That understanding leads to cohesiveness, because everyone can tell themselves and the marketplace the same story. If you know who you are and what you stand for as a firm, you know essentially what level of performance is required to be successful, how you expect to be treated and are expected to treat others, as well as what kinds of employees and clients you will want to attract.

So take the risk. Send an email or call a meeting and see what happens. It could open up a whole new world of understanding.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009