What We Need Today Is A Few More Lifeguards

Some days remind us that every human being has a story. And most of the time we don’t know many of the details. This week brought several of those days.

The specifics — not really appropriate to recount here — have prompted plenty of introspection on my part. Much of it has centered on how we treat those we encounter.

Angry Words

I simply don’t understand a predisposition to do everything possible to prevent connecting — with family, colleagues, those with whom we disagree, even a random stranger.

Perhaps it is naivety; but I’m glad I don’t get it. Basic human kindness seems like one of the things we should be able to get right.

Sure…we all have a bad day — one where the knee-jerk response is to take personal frustrations out on another individual.

But I don’t get the constant comments meant to demean, belittle or even wound another person. What purpose does this serve?

Is it designed to communicate?

Maybe at times it is effective. The first phone call I received a few mornings ago lasted less than 90 seconds; but in that time the word stupid was used repeatedly to convey an opinion on a particular matter. Communication received. (Once was all that was necessary.)

So I suppose we should stipulates that communication may be taking place when hateful words are spewed…when ideas meant to tear down or diminish value are uttered.

In the meantime, nothing is being built.

What didn’t occur during that random phone call was any bridge-building. The occasion was one of disconnecting — from any real conversation…any exploration…any attempt to find a productive solution.

And in the process — whether in phone calls, social media posts or face-to-face encounters — we may be missing important stories. Stories of hunger. Of insecurity, pain or trauma.

Or we might be missing a moment of joy.

This week my heart broke over the details of three human stories. In each the only thing that matters is doing the right thing with another human being. Winning an argument, proving a point, being correct or vindicated — none of this matters one iota. To be there…to extend a hand…to represent hope…to be aware enough to simply sit, and care — this is what matters in so many moments.

In a brief post today Seth Godin concludes with this thought: “If you’re not drowning, you’re a lifeguard.”

The New Testament puts it this way. “By this will men know you are My disciples; that you love one another.”

May human kindness and gentle words be the order of our days.

A Requiem For The Art of Dialogue

I remember when we used to be able to disagree with each other.

Friends could have a debate, and go home friends. We could work alongside others, and build neighborhoods with folks with whom we shared differing views. Somehow we managed to identify common ground, and get things done.

Those were the days.

Or maybe it was all smoke and mirrors.

In any case, it sure seems like dialogue is dead now. It has become acceptable to scoff at the very idea we might have a conversation with one with whom we disagree.

These days hyperbole and name-calling have replaced any give-and-take. Cranking up the volume, and soundbites scripted for the talk-show circuit try to masquerade as discourse.

When was the last time you heard (or participated in) a calm and reasoned debate around deeply held perspectives. How did it end?

The Sounds of Dialogue

When I was a know-it-all kid I thought Dad was just being disagreeable when he’d advocate for a view in which I knew he did not believe. Years later I came to realize that those debates were training exercises — Dad’s way of teaching us kids what dialogue sounds like.

Taking unpredictable positions, he forced us to listen first. Canned positions were rarely sufficient. Exploratory conversation was essential. It took some give-and-take to understand where he was coning from — to figure out where and how we might connect.

None of us around the dinner table (he always staged these exercises over a meal) appreciated the tedious way in which he orchestrated the drill. Rarely was there a winner. What was the point? Years latter we came to appreciate the reality that, intentional or not, those sessions were a practicum in the art of dialogue. We learned what it sounds like. And if it isn’t dead, the art is fading fast.

These days it’s about nailing the soundbite; sticking to the talking points no matter what the question might be; tearing down in favor of building; being audacious in 140 characters; or producing the coveted viral moment.

It’s about the highlight reel and a WOW moment. It is controversy posing as discourse. It’s about a headline, a spotlight, or a reality gig.

It is about making my point and winning the moment. Without respect to implications on the next opportunity, it is about laying claim, and staking territory.

And before we know it, we’ve gone a day…or a week…or a month without engaging in a single real piece of dialogue.

Little by little, have we forgotten what it sounds like?

It isn’t how-was-your-day-mine-was-okay stuff. It is more than comparing golf scores and vacation itineraries.

Dialogue is about honest explorations and intentional bridge-building.

If we really want more than just attention…if we care about meaningful movement…if our communication is more than posturing or pandering…we can still rescue dialogue from the brink of extinction.

Where and how to begin? Step away from the podium. Spend some time listening — not for ways to shoot holes in what you hear; but for common ground…for shared aspirations. This is where dialogue begins.

Unless we rediscover the art, very little of real consequence will change — whether the venue is personal, professional, social or political.

Will we disagree. Certainly. But we might discover that those faint memories of when we could disagree and debate and walk away with self respect and friendship in tact weren’t a figment of our imagination at all. Those were the good ole days. And they weren’t so bad.

When And How To Evaluate Your Business Development Efforts

How do we measure progress? What constitutes ROI on what is plowed into business development efforts?

The practical challenge is that between the initial work necessary for productive business development efforts and any tangible signs of growth, it can be difficult to see the progress that is being made.

This is especially true if real progress calls for basic levels of culture change.

It is doubly tough to be patient when we address business development at moments when we are desperate to see immediate fruits from our efforts. Unable to see signs of growth in the short term, there is often a tendency to shift from one possible solution or strategy to the next.

By contrast, a successful strategy is one that has been in play long enough to be made up of a healthy blend of investments in the future, and past efforts that have created networks, solidified reputations, grown relationships and are delivering viable opportunities.

A Formula For Success

Build around silver bullets or new flavors of the month and you’ll probably rock along with the same level of biz dev success you’ve enjoyed. If you’re lucky (and some are), you’ll invest in the right area often enough to stay flat, or enjoy modest growth.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in designing a strategy that delivers marked organic growth from the investments you make in business development, consider these three principles.

  • Engage in smart targeting. Productive networks and strong relationships don’t just materialize from hope. Here are three characteristics of areas where your efforts can be most productive:
    • High consequence change
    • Shared affinity and/or aspirations
    • Relevant expertise and experience (personal or organizational)
  • Maintain focus. Turn your attention to business development only when its convenient or you have nothing else to do, and you’re not going to find much you can build upon. A pipeline of work develops in the context of on-going visibility, an awareness of capability and experience and realities of the market. Stay plugged into your efforts, or risk throwing your investment away.
  • Measure in this context. Target smart and maintain focus and you will have an appropriate framework for measuring effectiveness.

Productive biz dev isn’t about waiting forever, never taking stock, and constantly wondering about results. Quite to the contrary, build around a realistic and solid framework and you’ll begin to see something that may seem rare these days — new clients and organic growth.

5 Ideas To Ease Business Development Networking Anxieties

Some seem completely comfortable in their own skin in almost any situation. When it comes to business development, this translates to being at ease in any room — able to initiate conversations at the drop of a cocktail napkin. But for everyone who begins to sweat at the idea of the next networking room or the holiday events just around the corner, here are five ideas that might help you tame the trauma.

1) Don’t be so smart. Effective networking is not about you. It is about those with whom you wish to connect. Worry less about what you’ll say about you/your firm/your product or service, and more about demonstrating interest in what others will say, given the chance.

2) Be prepared to dance. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to show-off subject matter expertise, insight and brilliance. Resist. These tend to shorten conversations. Dance around the temptation. Viewing any single event as your only opportunity to pitch is not the road to effective business development. Job one is to begin an on-going conversation — one that lasts long after an event.

3) Avoid labels. Titles and job descriptions are forms of conversation shorthand that almost always conjure preconceived notions that are far too narrow. (What does “Lawyer” tell you?). Labels limit possibilities.

4) Choose targets wisely. There are those who desire dialogue, and those that want to hold court. While it is easy to drift toward the crowd gathered around one on stage, the individuals scattered around the edge of the room — alone or in pairs — may pose the best opportunities for rich conversation.

5) Build around Questions, not Talking Points (Or a canned “elevator speech”). Walk into your next networking event with two or three questions on the tip of your tongue. Specifics will depend on the situation, but here are two suggestions / idea starters:

  • What do you expect / hope to gain from attending this event?
  • If you could only participate in one or two events like this, which ones would you attend?

Effective Business Development Networking Instigates Conversations

Sure, there are those fortunate few for whom conversations that revolve around others seem easy. For the rest of us, perhaps — starting with the 5 ideas above — we can compile a practical list that makes networking feel a little less challenging. What will you add to our list?

What Does Leadership Have To Do With Framing A Vision of the Future?

The mid-seventies motion picture All The President’s Men popularized the counsel offered by Deep Throat — Follow the Money.  This was the key to understanding the issues relevant to the Watergate scandal.

Questions about the events surrounding the 1972 U.S. Presidential election — who was behind the break-in at the Watergate…and why — made for compelling news coverage. For months we investigated, probed, and prodded anyone that might provide insight into what had happened. The prospect of unearthing and examining what took place captures our imagination.

Just follow the money.

But what if it is…or should have been…easier than that?

What if the key to understanding past, present and future initiatives is to trace the vision of would be leaders.

What if the makeup of ones vision is clear measure of what tomorrow will bring?

Consider three markers provided by history.

Undaunted by the shadows of a Civil War, and unwilling to dwell on negatives of the past, Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg presented a vision.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”

Having challenged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you,” President John F. Kennedy presented an unimaginable vision for the country’s laging space program — to put a man on the moon.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most memorable words to those assembled on the Mall in Washington, D.C. were not an analysis of a nation’s ills or a detailed plan for remedy. Rather, Dr. King envisioned a mountain top — a perspective only accessible through inspired eyes. And his words resonate to this day — “I have a dream.”

Granted, boisterous tyrants have managed to build empires — from neighborhoods to nations — by sowing seeds of fear. For the manipulators whose primary goal is to precipitate a reaction, exploiting the dark side is easier than conjuring a vision.

Fear seldom gives rise to lasting change. And a compelling vision for what might be — for a relationship, a team, an enterprise or a nation — will always tap into the best of us.

Where there is vision, there exists a kind of future-movie. In the instances of Dr. King’s dream, JFK’s audacious idea, and Lincoln’s plea for a new birth of freedom one imagines the perspective of the possibility was as vivid as a full-color-first-run.

A compelling future-movie is inclusive, taps into the best of our attributes, and precipitates the decisions and actions that are the difference between average, just getting by, or even good…and great. Worthy of a dream.

Tomorrow always brings unknowns. But history’s most compelling moments and poignant lessons — whatever the venue — are captured by the writer of Proverbs — “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Four Ways To Deliver Value Through Your Business Development Activities

When the goal is to develop new business relationships in a competitive marketplace, simply being visible — having your name “out there” — isn’t near enough to differentiate you from the crowd. And though there are certainly approaches to visibility that can elicit a Wow, if your marketing focuses solely on name recognition, you will always be vulnerable to anyone willing to invest enough to upstage your efforts.

Establishing the connections that lead to the acquisition of business is a whole new ballgame when your biz dev efforts demonstrate the fact that there is value in a professional relationship with you.

This idea can be a challenging proposition for some professional service providers. So, in the spirit of offering fodder for a productive conversation, here are four thoughts on how to provide value in the context of business development activity.

1. Deliver Relevant Information

If you’re serious about being a trusted advisor, you’re probably already doing this with clients because you understand that those you hope will become cornerstones of your practice warrant more than a holiday greeting, an email blast and an invitation to a webinar. By the same token, learn as much as you can about the business of your target(s), and become a conduit of information relevant to the respective industry or market.

Use updates on legal and regulatory issues, financial projections and analysis, and operational innovations and trends as a bridge to conversations. The more relevant the information the better; but if you’re not simply shoveling stuff, there is relational value in a process that communicates your level of interest. And if you want to differentiate yourself from the pack, don’t settle for an email blast. Go an extra step, and make the communication personal.

2. Be A Connector

Virtually every business person places high value on being able to make the right connections. Anyone able to short-cut the (often painful) networking process by becoming the point-of-connection adds immeasurable value to a business relationship. Find those places where your professional (or personal) network intersects with the interests and concerns of your target, and you’ve found an important way to demonstrate the value you bring.

3. Put Skin In The Game

This can be closely aligned with the Connector idea above. It begins with the knowledge of what is important to your target. This may be charitable or community organizations, social initiatives, or even personal hobbies. Identify an interest in which you can become personally involved, and go beyond token support. Get involved by giving time, resources, and influence.

3. Be A Human Being

Before you tune out on this one, consider this: if the only thing your prospective client sees is you in pitch mode, you’re doing yourself an injustice when it comes to your business development efforts.

The best strategy creates a way for your target to experience what it is like to work with you — your communication style, your focus on the client, your follow through, and yes…the quality of your work product.

The best action plans go beyond the awkward dinner meeting where you struggle for the right way to ask for work. They opt for collaborative workshops instead of one-sided presentations. They have a focus larger than just work product.

One of the most effective marketing events I’ve seen offered a private screening for families of clients and prospects of the Harry Potter film debuts. Individuals that declined participation in every other type event showed up with kids and grandkids in tow in order to avoid the long lines, grab complimentary concessions, snap photos of the kids with a Harry Potter look alike, and then enjoy a private screening on the day the motion picture premiered. Many of these folks became friends. (But be careful; you’ll be expected to do this for every new Harry Potter release.)

Reminder: One Size Does Not Fit Every Business Development Strategy

No…you can’t do all of this with every target for a professional relationship. Invest heavily in the most important relationships. As targets become more important the ways in which you invest time and resources should correspond. And the better you know your target’s business, the more you should be able to custom fit the added-value you offer.

Whatever tactics you choose, this focus on building relationships is part of the fabric of a business development plan that differentiates. Become an important and valuable professional relationship, and business development becomes much more organic, and productive.

How To Deliver Value To Your Network — Even In Uncertain Times

I was struck by the idea shared by David Ackert on his blog last week, and I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already. We spend considerable time and space exploring tactics for effective business development, and frequently note that — when it comes to professional service practice development — relationship is the name of the game.

Invest time and resources doing the things that build relationships, and many of the questions about the action items of a business development plan tend to disappear — specifically, creating (and maintaining) visibility and delivering value. David’s post is a timely reminder that there are times when a word of comfort or empathy provides the most appropriate visibility.

There are moments when the most valuable thing anyone can offer might be a helping hand that has nothing to do with the work you do or the service your firm markets.

If you’re in this for the long haul — if you’re not simply playing a numbers game as you work your way down a prospect list — your plan must include doing what it takes to build and nurture relationships.

This means a focus on three things:

  • Creating visibility;
  • Delivering value; and,
  • Engaging in 360-degree-communication — meaning not just having dialogue when working on a matter or when sending the obligatory occasion-based card or note.

Every single real rainmaker I know consistently invests in relationship. For many, it is intuitive. For others it is carefully thought through and strategic. Either way, if you’re looking for a good place to begin, I’ll refer you to the three ideas suggested in David’s post for starters.

1. Check in on clients and colleagues who reside in the areas affected by the recent hurricanes. Make sure they are okay.
2. Take an inventory of those who are recovering from an illness (however slight). Wish them a speedy recovery.
3. Think of those who have changed jobs over the past six months. Ask them how they are settling in. — David Ackert

One caveat — and if this isn’t clear I’m guessing relationships are an ever-present issue for you whether professional or personal: a real investment in relationship is unconditional…and cannot be manipulative in nature.

The work of business development can be particularly challenging for many professional service providers. But when action plans are rooted in identifying and building relationships, the work will produce lifetime connections…even friendships. And this is the source of the most rewarding work around.

Three Things That Form The Foundation For Effective Networking and Business Development Efforts

Once you have identified the target for a business development pursuit, then what?

The answer is simple. Whether you’re considering initial and broad based networking or a single focused pursuit, the success you seek hinges on the (often time consuming) work of building and nurturing professional relationship.

Specific action steps will vary depending on the situation; but three basic principles should be at the heart of every aspect of your plan.

  • Create and maintain meaningful visibility;
  • Deliver value on a sustained basis;
  • Instigate dialogue.

This is the DNA of a quality relationship. And these three things are the keys to an action plan that will produce results.

A Short Note On Each

When visibility is limited to two or three times a year, the chances of building much of a relationship are slim. Slimmer still if the contact is confined to some type of mass communique.

Productive relationships require visibility.

If you’re handling your visibility plan in a strategic way, you should be delivering value (as your target defines it) in the process. As is the case throughout this discussion, there are no cookie-cutters; value comes in many shapes and sizes. Insight, counsel, hands-on assistance, and yes…even some entertainment along the way are often built into the action steps of an effective plan.

And if there is no dialogue, there simply isn’t going to be much of a relationship. (Doubt this? Try having a meaningful personal relationship absent substantive conversations.) A productive plan looks for opportunities, and instigates the kind of dialogue that provides an increasingly clear picture of what your target seeks — what s/he values most — what causes “sleepless nights.”

It is a simple formula; but execution isn’t easy. Success at a level that ultimately sustains a practice requires commitment, discipline, focus, and time…as is the case when it comes to making any relationship work.

For Everyone Sick Of All The Talk About Networking

Let’s cut to the chase. Why do you need a network? Because your network is your market.

Every day many professional service providers wrestle with how to develop new business — not because of inferior work product or poor client service; but because their network is not large enough to supply the connections, generate the referrals, and open the doors to new work on a sustained basis.

If you don’t have a list of specific targets — the names of individuals that connect you in some way to the real possibility of new work — your network is likely an issue. But it is not an insurmountable problem. Construct a plan that focuses on identifying, growing and cultivating connections with these three types of individuals:

  • Those able to hire you;
  • Those able to introduce, recommend or refer you;
  • Those able to coach you…providing intel that strengthens other aspects of your network.

Meaningful networking isn’t necessarily about social media, working a room of strangers, banquet chicken and happy hours. It is about taking the time to consider which individuals put you ever closer to the individuals able to hire you…and executing a plan of action that connects you to this group of individuals.

So if you’re not sure where next week’s work will come from — if you’re basically waiting on the next phone call and hoping the market finds you, consider the upside of focusing on individuals that connect you to work.

Build relevant connections — through social media, memberships, events and one-on-one conversations, and through the use of any other available tools — and, whether you call it this or not, you’re executing a plan that will grow a network, and create a pipeline of future business.

On Having The Wisdom To Know The Difference

It is much easier to be a critic than a creator; less risky to respond and react than to innovate and initiate; less costly to follow than to lead.

Charting new territory — innovating, establishing relationships and building solutions — requires a vision for the future and a measure of courage . . . an investment of blood, sweat and tears that is easy to second guess from much cheaper and less consequential seats.

The Potential of ‘Why Not’

To clarify, we’re not talking about the discipline and skill set that analyzes, tests and calibrates in the quest for a more perfect solution. We’re talking about a perspective that consistently sees the glass as half empty.

There is a difference between problem identification and problem solving.

The former is a never-ending proposition. To the degree it appears to be acumen, analysis or even leadership, it may be good for the short term; but it is often anathema to actual progress. The danger in constantly naming all that is wrong is that this process (or habit) can morph into a perpetual agenda.

On the other hand, those who chart new territory cultivate and nurture a different perspective — opportunistic, tenacious, and glass-at-least-half-full.

Robert F. Kennedy’s famous quote captures the attitude — “Some men see things as they are and say ‘why.’ I dream things that never were, and say ‘why not’.”

Anyone working on the creation or implementation of a strategy — anyone attempting to lead — is familiar with the tug-of-war between “why” and “why not.” The tension is real. Not every opportunity is worthy of resources, much less all out pursuit. Not every misstep warrants the energy and equity of a boisterous Why.

Leadership knows the difference.

Stalemate on every front might be an indication that a vacuum exists — an opportunity for leadership willing to invest in the honest, unselfish pursuit of solution.