A Few Thoughts on Thankfulness

imageThankfulness is a decision.

It is borne of perspective that transcends personal experience, and resists seeing life through a built-in-ever-present corrective lens.

Thankfulness has no agenda. It is poured out in response to an awareness of what constitutes true richness.

It is not a day. Or a season. It cannot be measured, and it does not keep score.

It is a choice — to reject a frame of reference shaped by fear…to resist the tendency to focus on all so obviously askew around us.

Thankfulness makes our hearts bigger and more aware. It fine-tunes vision, inspiring creativity and innovation.

This is why our world is a little better when we pause for a moment, hour or day of thanksgiving.

What might be the result of a simple decision to move into each day with a thankful perspective?

Is That A Marketing Opportunity or Distraction Knocking At Your Door?

imageThese days, anyone with something to market has unprecedented opportunity.

And that’s the problem.

More specifically, better opportunities are one of the major reasons your marketing efforts flounder and fail.

Mobile capability, competitive intelligence, data analysis, up-to-the-minute tendencies and trends — never have we had so much at our fingertips. An array of message distribution possibilities put every corner of the globe within reach of anyone with a mousetrap to sell.

Yet, when it comes to connecting with the right audience at the right time in a meaningful way, local, regional and global brands miss the mark in dramatic fashion every day. Once proud brands in virtually every industry fight tooth and nail to hold to a viable sliver of the pie — never mind move the needle and actually increase market share.

More data. More tools. Certainly no less creativity. And minimal progress. What gives?

Opportunity or Distraction?

In a piece for Harvard Business Review, Walter Isaacson wrote a seminal article on the keys to the successes of Steve Jobs’ leadership tenure at Apple. First on the list? Focus. Despise or admire him, it is tough to argue the point. Once a course was set, Jobs was single-minded. To a fault.

If only things were as clear-cut and simple for us as in those back-from-the-edge-of-extinction days at Apple. Right?

These days we must sift through a constant stream of new apps, technologies and enterprise solutions, all hawking a better silver bullet. Just about the time we have our ducks in a row, a sexier opportunity appears.

New markets. Improved strategies. Better jumpstarts. Keener insights. Process shortcuts. And that’s just the promises made in this morning’s emails.

If you market you are surrounded by opportunities promising to turn the tide, get you to the finish line faster, and point you in the direction of the next race.

And here’s the tough part. Today might actually present you with a great opportunity.

Or are they really just grand distractions?

Certainly, as rapidly as things evolve, we must be open to game-changing ideas and tools. The well-worn ruts tracing how we’ve always done it are dangerous the deeper they become.

But let’s be real. Each time we fall prey to the newest flavor of the month or the latest shiny tech solution, we risk taking the preverbal two-steps-back. More to the point, we reveal that, for whatever reason, we weren’t terribly committed to that plan we adopted.

Constantly changing plans may be indicative of no real strategy at all.

On the other hand, beware the few who somehow tune-out the siren call of every opportunity. Their focus (some might call it commitment) is at least part of what is shared by the handful of brands, causes and campaigns that reshape markets.

Do all the homework. Chart a course aligned with long term strategy. Then stick with it long enough to win. Or at least learn from the experience.

When everything looks and sounds like a great opportunity, a solid strategy may be what’s missing from the marketing plan.

3 Keys to Better Conversations and the Strategic Innovation of Your Business Development Plan

3 KeysThere is a reason so many of the issues we face today are the same ones we faced last week. Or last year. Or three years ago. Or . . . you get the idea.

From individual relationships to global politics…personal finance to marketing a business, often the solution on which we land is little more than a reordering of the same old talking points. A mashup of things tried, but unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, real improvement is negligible. And experience tells us we’ll be back at the table to rehash the same issue again. Soon.

The difficulty doesn’t stem from a shortage of time or resources, though the latest silver bullet usually calls for more of both.

Most of the time it isn’t because the issues are unresolvable.

It is, at least in part, because we are doing the same things we’ve always done. Even as we strategize and plan initiatives labeled new, we are pioritizing and addressing moments, challenges and opportunities in the same way we’ve always addressed them.

And wondering why very little changes.

Why aren’t my relationships in better shape? Why am I not in better shape. Why does it appear to be business-as-usual in so many places where we pursue change? 

Why doesn’t my practice grow?

It should be noted that what we’re repeating today may have once been a state-of-the-art path to progress. And if what you’ve been doing is delivering the results you desire, stick with the strategy and methodology that are serving you.

But if you feel an uncomfortable shift as you struggle for traction — the market may be sending you a not-too-subtle signal that it is time to change things up a bit.

Sure…there are timeless principles — cornerstones on which we can build.

But we’ve always known two things about business development: relationship trumps everything; and they are dynamic — constantly changing.

Ignore the change, and you’re putting the future at risk.

Strategic Innovation

Wherever we wonder at the fact that, despite all the talk and attention, we see little to no progress, it might be time for a different conversation.

If this rings true even a little, try framing a new conversation around three principles:

  1. Develop a new vocabulary. To the degree we are saying what we’ve always said — doing what we’ve always done — we likely sound like everyone else in the room. A different conversation differentiates.
  2. Listen to new voices. There is enormous value in continuity. But listen to the same things over and over and perspective shrinks, and our inventory of ideas becomes limited.
  3. Start with Why. (If you haven’t, I highly recommend you check out Simon Sinek’s book.) Forget what you’ve always done, and how you’ve always done it. Begin at the heart of the matter — why you’re going down this path.

This is not about just changing things up. It is about the dynamics of new and better conversations This is a formula for strategic innovation.


5 Traits of the True Professional

Portrait of successful businesswoman looking at camera with her workteam at background

Portrait of successful businesswoman looking at camera with her workteam at background

We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face. We may write about it, speak on it, and build entire initiatives around it. If we have enough juice, in some circles we might even be able to insist we be called one.

But when it comes to what it really means to be a professional, titles, labels, and all manner of branding gymnastics have little to do with making one a true professional.

As is always the case, what we do speaks much more eloquently than anything we say. (Or what our business card says.)

Professionalism is about wht one decides to be. It is the sum of a set of traits that form the foundation for behavior in defining moments.

When And Where Professionalism Is Defined

The only thing most of us are able to control with respect to this discussion is our own personal pursuit of the traits we deem central to professionalism.

It is easy to come to believe that defining moments come with high visibility. But most of us know in our gut that true professionalism is defined daily — in scores of moments that are often more private than public — when few observe, and there is little fanfare.

Simply calling someone (or something) professional, does not make it so.

Five Traits

In the interest of a productive pursuit, and with acknowledgment of personal blind spots, here are five of the traits present in the consummate professionals I have had the opportunity to know.

  1. Professionals take responsibility. They don’t whine or shrink in difficult moments. Nor, it should be noted, do the best of the best demand the spotlight for sustenance.
  2. The professional possesses crystal-clear self-awareness, and is constantly honing the ability to identify personal limitations. This is manifest in honesty, intentional listening, and a big-picture perspective.
  3. Professionals don’t engage in meaningless turf wars, and do not tear down others. Rather, they build bridges, and are apt to deflect credit.
  4. Professionals follow up, and follow through. Always. No matter what. The true professional is dependable.
  5. The professional is always professional — without respect to position or title.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Have thoughts and/or additions that might be instructive for anyone aspiring to professionalism? Please contribute.

What Real Leadership Sounds Like

View From The TopIf I were to heed mom’s advice — if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all — I would do a lot less talking. For some of us (I won’t speak for you), it is easy to go negative. Quickly.

From the half-empty glass to service that is far too slow; from the inconsiderate neighbor to every other driver in rush hour traffic; from nothing but bad news to political rhetoric — it is easy to see the downside.

On one hand, this is great news for the naysayer, who will never be at a loss for material. Call names. Point to flaws. The truth is there is always something wrong.

Perceiving the glass as half full requires a perspective that discerns possibility — a view of what might be, unlimited by the moment. Not framed by devils known. And simply put, sometimes that is hard work.

Such a perspective strikes a different and harmonious chord . . . perhaps because it is so rare. But we know it when we hear it.

Choosing To Do What Is Hard

In 1962 — barely four years after the invention of the integrated microchip and at least thirteen years before the personal computer — the President of the United States stood up at Rice University in Houston, Texas and announced that the United States space program would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

It is impossible to remember or imagine how that sounded. The space initiative was fledgling. The U.S. program was perceived by many to be lagging. It had been less than a year-and-a-half since a USSR cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin had become the first human being in space.

Cost. Risk. Timing. The distraction from pressing matters.

You know there must have been a chorus reciting the negatives. A man on the moon in less than eight years? Really?

But a new course is rarely charted by a naysayer.

Consequential change is borne of  an often audacious vision of what could be.

Name the venue, endeavor or adventure — from the profound to mundane — it is always easier to point to what is wrong than envision, articulate and motivate toward solution.

Certainly, the ability to analyze situations, identify problems, and recalibrate direction are immensely valuable skill sets. But solutions (and that is what we’re about, right?) and constructive dialogue rarely break out on a plank of negative insight.

Sure . . . we all have days when the service sucks or forces conspire to accentuate incompetence. And yes, there are days when fear motivates and negative voices prevail. Those days notwithstanding, the danger in  focusing on what is wrong is how easily that morphs into anemic vision.

Perhaps leadership is less defined by how good we are at pointing out all that is wrong, and more by a perspective that seeks out and can build on what is right.

Whatever the venue, professional, social or personal, charting a better course — one that moves the needle, repairs what is broken and mends what is torn — hinges on clearly articulating a vision.

What might happen if we were to tap into the fabric of our most noble aspirations, and employ a vocabulary of solution?

Rose-colored glasses? Maybe. Easy? Not for some of us, that’s certain.

But I’m imagining what tomorrow might look like if I am able to rise to the occaesion, and resist the easy road.

At the very least, it will sound a lot different.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” — President John F. Kennedy

The Perils of the Comfort Zone

Comfort ZoneThe comfort zone is a dangerous place to hang out.

One can rock along day-to-day with little to no disruption. Sure, once-in-a-while there might be a hiccup or two; but for the most part life is pretty good. The figurative trains run on time, Performance seems as good or better than last year. The climate / culture is pleasant enough.

When the comfort zone is good, every day is like a day at the beach.

But doesn’t something inevitably interrupt life as we come to expect it? It might be a competitor infringing on once-sacred territory. Or an unforeseen turn by the market. Or a client reorganizing.

Not to worry. We’re still plenty comfortable.

Then something else happens. What seemed nothing more than a hiccup turns into an issue. Or a crisis.

It rarely happens overnight. It creeps. And seeps. It is hardly noticed at first. Then it is the subject of analysis.

By the time we huddle, dissect and debate solutions, things aren’t so comfortable anymore. We find ourselves smack-dab-in-the-middle of an uncomfortable new normal.

This is what the comfort zone does. It distorts perspective. At its most insidious it messes with my view of my reality. Rise and shine in the comfort zone day after day, and soon one begins to think this is the only reality that exists.

The comfort zone is insulated. The idea that cornerstones might be shifting, or that structural change might be necessary is impossible to fathom. What we do has always worked.

The reasoning is often that the topsy-turvy of disruption won’t last forever. The pendulum will swing. Things will return to the way they were.

The comfort zone can stifle innovation.

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that the longer everything rocks along at an acceptable level — though disruption abounds — the more perilous conditions can become.

When It Becomes Uncomfortable, It’s Too Late

If you’re reading this, chances are you have some first hand experience with the comfort zone. And let’s be clear — its amenities are to be enjoyed. But fail to respond to consequential change until things are uncomfortable, and we’re susceptible to  the peril of knee-jerk attempts to fix things overnight.

And quick-fixes rarely fix anything.

So how does an organization, a team, or for that matter, an individual avoid the perils of the comfort zone?

Whatever might be said about Steve Jobs, it is doubtful he spent much time in the blind spots of a comfort zone. In his famous and oft quoted 2005 Stanford commencement address, Jobs spoke to the challenges that often accompany achievement. His advice?

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

And while (at least from where I sit) his daily walk hardly seems a model for exuberant living, Jobs’ admonition is taken from the title of a book by entrepreneur Rashmi Bansal. It is about maintaining the spirit and vision that characterize the early hours of new adventure.

We can debate the use of terms like “foolish.” But while we’re debating, we know the reality — everything changes. Empires fall. Once revered companies disappear. Even what seem to be the best personal relationships can fail.

At least one antidote to the perils of the comfort zone is the appetite that characterizes new adventure.

Perhaps what we need — individually and institutionally, personally and professionally — is a youthful vision that sees beyond successes and challenges of the moment, and perceives the new beginnings that accompany each day.

Thoughts On The Lawyer / Marketer Dichotomy

Corporate rivalryThere are exceptions; but the fact is that for many lawyers, marketing is an annoyance, if not anathema. And there is good reason. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING

(This week’s post is a guest shot at Managing Law Firm Transition, the blog authored by my friends Roger Hayse and Andy Jillson of Hayse LLC.  Thanks to Roger and Andy for the invitation.)

The Key To Identifying The Best Targets For Your Business Development Efforts

Marketing segmentationIn our last post — You Say The Market Isn’t Beating Down Your Door — we suggested two things that are often true of professional service providers wrestling with how to develop new business — an anemic network, and the absence of strategic targets. The post suggested the way to address the network issue.

The next question is — once a robust network is in play, how does one identify the best targets for business development?

Even with a great network, unless we are engaged in calculated pursuits, we’re still in the uncomfortable position of waiting for the market to choose us.

On the other hand, when you are focused on consistently delivering value, your network can become a target rich environment. So two things are critical.

First, how do you deliver value? Here are 3 ideas (summarized in the top panel of the Illustration below).

  • Become a connector — providing introductions, references, referrals and recommendations to others in your network (and think personal as well as professional).
  • Share your expertise (versus simply talking about it). For starters, use CLE events, timely seminars, newsletters and social outlets like blogs to deliver thought leadership, analysis and insight.
  • Become a curator — accumulate and share content that is important and relevant to your network…including content from sources other than you or your firm.

These are just ideas. There are no cookie-cutters. Be attentive and creative. And remember that relationship trumps everything. This is not about checking items off a to-do-list. Delivering real value to your network is the most eloquent marketing message you can deliver, creating visibility with staying power.

BizDev InfographicThe Second Challenge: Choosing Where To Focus

Effective business development plans revolve around smart targeting — putting time and effort in the right place.

So what are the keys to being smart with your business development resources? The bottom panel of the Illustration above is a quick-reference guide.

First, remember that there are at least three types of targets.

  • Individuals who can hire you
  • Those in a position to refer / recommend you
  • Coaches — individuals who can provide insight and intel relevant to the hiring targets you pursue.

Given the complexity of today’s marketplace, the proactive business development plan should include all three.

As a practical matter, when it comes to managing the database of information about your network (and a robust network should be tracked in some form of database / CRM system), divide your targets into these three groups (or groups corresponding to designations that work for you).

Once you’re able to sort by type, choosing targets wisely brings rhyme and reason to where you invest the resources for effective pursuit. Here are just a few of the criteria that can help you prioritize, and build a target list that maximizes your efforts.

  • Subject matter expertise — identify targets whose business drivers overlap with your area of experience / expertise (or that of someone in your firm).
  • Decision-maker relationship — all other things being equal, investing where you have a direct relationship with an individual empowered to hire you should take high priority;
  • Consider the arithmetic — do enough homework to know the rate, project costs and timeline will not end up being an issue when your pursuit is successful.
  • Extended relationships — draft a relationship map that shows all known connections between you/your firm, others in your network, your target’s organization, and the decision maker.
  • Personal Affinity — work that touches on areas you care about will almost always help make a pursuit more organic.

Smart targeting helps establish priorities — what events to attend, when to say no to “opportunities”, and where to invest resources. It helps map the shortest distance between where you are today, and the existence of a pipeline of the kind of work you signed up for.

You Say The Market Isn’t Beating Down Your Door?

Knock on DoorIf you find yourself wondering where the next piece of work will come from, two things may be true about your marketing and business development efforts.

Your professional network is anemic; and you have a shortage of strategic targets.

Easy to say from the comfortable confines of a blog post, I know. But it is not, in my experience, a far fetched hypothesis. And here’s why.

Many have been led to believe that a quality work product combined with excellent client service will automatically result in a successful, practice. Capable and willing on both counts, optimistic professionals shop for the best place to plant a practice and proudly hang a shingle.

But left to build a practice in today’s marketplace, it doesn’t take long to realize that, contrary to the old saying, the possession of the greatest mousetrap in the world is no guarantee the market will beat a path to your door.

Combine competition and volatility with aspirations to serve a market that presumes expertise and quality, and an increasing number of professional service providers are left to wonder what it takes to differentiate, and become relevant.

And hoping the market will somehow find them.

Would that it were a mousetrap we were marketing.

We could shoot a video, create a slick brochure, and add some copy that focuses on effectiveness and efficiency. We could build a cool website, add some state-of-the-art SEO, and just sit back and wait for the phone to ring.

Or, if budget is a factor we could print some fliers and coax the neighborhood kids to slap them on car windshields in the supermarket parking lot.

Even if one assumes that is ever a workable strategy, the professional service we offer doesn’t come in a box. It can be difficult to quantify, and much of the time there’s not much tangible until a matter closes, a contract is signed or a case won.

Stop Waiting For The Market To Find You, And Take Business Development Into Your Own Hands

For everyone tired of waiting for the phone to ring, there is a much more productive and proven approach to business and practice development.

It begins with a focus on your network. Before you tune out, consider this.

The care and feeding of a strategic network is the key to developing a pipeline of biz dev opportunities.

How large does your network need to be? Ideally, large enough so that there will always be someone in your network in need of the service your provide.

A robust network — one you faithfully nurture — is key to eliminating those periods where the silence of the market can be deafening.

If this seems like a reach to you, think about the rainmakers you know. That thing you think of as an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time is, more likely than not, reflective of a robust network.

Where to begin if you don’t have this kind of pipeline? What to do next if you haven’t been working on your network?

There are no cookie-cutters; and specifics will depend in part on the stage of your career. But here are two ideas to consider.

image1. View your business development efforts in two layers. Layer one (see Illustration above) is macro in nature, and focuses on growing a network. Begin with groups you’re already plugged into — alumni associations, civic clubs, servicei groups, professional affiliations, and churches are a few of the most common.

2. The second layer is where you become strategic, and begin to identify specific targets, and actually plan a proactive pursuit.

How do you choose your targets? That’s the subject of our next post.

Dialogue Is Dead (And Our Ability To Disagree Is Disappearing)

skeleton on computerI remember when we used to be able to disagree.

Friends could vigorously debate, and go home friends. We could go to school, work alongside, and build neighborhoods with folks with whom we held differing views, values and convictions. We could even talk about it.

Those were the days.

But that kind of dialogue may be dead.

These days hyperbole and name-calling have replaced honest give-and-take. Today cranking up the volume, and soundbites scripted for the talk-show circuit pose as discourse.

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

What Dialogue Sounds Like

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

Taking unpredictable positions, he forced us to listen first. Canned positions were rarely sufficient. It took some give-and-take to understand where he was coning from.

Of course, I didn’t appreciate the exercise. It was tedious, and no one ever won. What was the point? I came to realize, intentional or not, it was a practicum in what Mom called disagreeing without being disagreeable.

I am not good at it; but I 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; being audacious in 140 characters; or producing the coveted viral moment.

It’s about Sports Center and WOW. And controversy that is passed off as discourse.

It’s about a headline, a spotlight, or a reality gig.

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

And before we know it, we’ve gone a day…or a week…or a month without a single real conversation.

This isn’t how-was-your-day-mine-was-okay stuff; or comparing golf scores and vacation itenaries. This is about honest explorations and intentional bridge-building.

If we seek more than attention…if we care about meaningful movement…if our communication is more than posturing or pandering…we can 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. Without it, very little of real substance will change — whether the venue is personal, business, social or political.

Will we disagree. Certainly.

But I remember when we used to be able to disagree…without being so disagreeable.