FOCUS: Of Course You’re Reliable! RIGHT??

Are you Reliable?

Are you Reliable?

The far end of reliability is taking things for granted, right?

You hop in your car, perform some kind of ignition action, and you just EXPECT the car to start up so you can go do what you need to do. You head into the barbershop or salon you’ve been frequenting for awhile, sit down for some kind of hair-related operation (maybe with the same barber or stylist you’ve been seeing the whole time…) and EXPECT to look a certain way when you leave. You flip a light switch in your living room and you EXPECT a light of some sort to go on.

It’s when you perform these actions and what you expected DOESN’T happen that you become intensely aware of reliability.

Each of these examples involves an inanimate object, but the same expectations and certainty are what define reliability in relationships as you build trust. In his book on trust, Charles Feltman defines reliability as “the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep your promises.” You make commitments in two ways: in response to someone else’s request (or, if they’re higher up the food chain than you are, it might be a direction or command…) OR by making an offer to someone. When the other persons accepts your offer they usually consider it a commitment on your part.

Requests can be the problem. Crystal clear communication is crucial here, because if you don’t have all the information you need AND you walk away with the request, the requester will assume you’ve committed to do exactly what they asked…..only you won’t be clear on the specifics, so you chances of success are, shall we say, variable. Sadly, many requests are the only-slightly-less-generic version “go do stuff with that thing and get back to me whenever…”

YIKES!
Feltman writes that you can increase real reliability through what he calls The Cycle of Commitment – basic elements that make for clear, complete, and direct requests:

  • CUSTOMER – Who’s doing the asking here? Who’s the request actually FOR? Never assume anything that looks obvious, here. When someone says something like, “We need to do some research on this” you desperately need to know who the research is for, so you can get to specific expectations about the research and also know to whom you go for further clarification or if you have concerns.
  • PERFORMER – Who’s going to do the work? Is it you? Are you qualified? Do you have the resources (time, talent, funds…) to fulfill the request? Is that clear to you AND to the requester?
  • ACTION – Just what EXACTLY does the customer want you to do? Can you actually do it? What measurements for the action or deliverables will be the outcomes of this action?
  • TIMEFRAME – When does the customer want it to be completed….Oh, and ASAP is not at all helpful.  Get a solid date, since ASAP may mean by the end of the week to you and by the end of the day to the customer.
Make sure you have complete clarity on each of these elements and your chance at success AND demonstrated reliability are significantly enhanced.

So, that’s what it looks like when others are making requests of you, but how can you help others by making your requests more effective?

Be Direct. Direct requests have a much better chance of clarity than indirect requests. Many people often “soften” their requests (making them indirect in a way…) because they feel that direct requests are impolite in some way. Granted, different cultures have different standards and mores surrounding the acceptable kinds of language used in making direct requests, so you need to be aware of that factor, however, what appears to work best in what I will call “typical” European and North American cultures, what seems to work best include the phrases:
  • I ask that you…
  • I request
  • Will you (please)…
  • (Please) do this….
 Less direct request, which are less clear and therefore less direct, include the phrases:
  • I want or I need…
  • Why don’t you…
  • …needs to be done.
 None of these is a real request, but most understand the intention.

Ridiculously indirect requests, which are usually not even perceived as requests, can include phrases like:
  • My coffee cup is empty. (Secret request: Get me more coffee.)
  • The conference room is a disaster. (Secret request: Clean up the conference room.)
  • It’s almost eleven o’clock. (Secret request: Get me the printed slides for the 11:00 team meeting.)
See how helpful being very indirect ISN’T?!

Of course, how you respond to a request is just as important as getting the request right if you’re demonstrating reliability. Once the Customer makes the request, the Performer (you, in this case…) need to respond. Here are the possible responses:

  • COMMIT – “Yes, I’ll do it.” To them this means, “I will do exactly what you’ve asked me to do. Here is where real clarity about the request is critical. If the request is vague or missing information, it is up to you to ask for it.
  • DECLINE – “No, I can’t (or won’t) do it.” This let’s the customer that you aren’t available to do whatever she’s requesting…..she needs to find a different resource. Sadly, in the workplace, many times “No” isn’t an option….however, saying “Yes” is truly setting yourself up for failure, so consider how “No” could be framed.
  • COUNTEROFFER – “I can’t do that, but instead I can do…” This is one way “No” in the workplace could be framed. Create something that MIGHT work. A counteroffer opens a negotiation scenario between you and the customer. This should end in either a commitment or a declination. Leaving things hanging in midair is the same as failure.
  • COMMIT-TO-COMMIT – “I need to check on something (resources, time, etc.) before I can get you an answer. I’ll get back to you by…” You might need more information. Regardless of the reason, be sure to designate a time at which they WILL get a firm answer.
Lastly, there’s the old favorite, the Drive-By Request. Seen mostly in offices, this type of request is the most easily tossed-off and the most likely to fail.

I remember vividly chasing my manager down the hall pleading for more information and clarification as she receded into a conference room and shut the door. As many of these requests are, it was a “short-fuse” request and I could either wait for her to return to her office AND lose precious time, or get hot on the request and HOPE that I hit at least SOME of the actual target. I usually did the latter and paid for it painfully. So, You can live with the stress of unclear deliverables or the stress of waiting for clarification so that success will be more likely. If possible, get together with this customer and go over the Cycle of Commitment with her…..for example, ask her not to assume “Yes” to a Drive-By request. Instead, she should give you a chance to respond to the request and get all the particulars. Everyone involved is much more likely to be happy with the result.

So here are some ways build your reputation of reliability:

  • Make sure you can actually do what is asked of you BEFORE you respond to a request.
  • If the request is unclear, ask for clarification and any missing bits of information.
  • If you are offering to do something, be sure they understand what you CAN and CANNOT do.
  • Listen to people to determine if they are making EXTREMELY indirect requests of you. Are they just talking, or are they creating a framework of expectations that are clear to them and vague to you? Decide which it is, and respond.
Reliability is more than just consistency. I know people who consistently make questionable choices…..that’s not the kind of reliable I’m looking for!

FOCUS: If You Read One Article About Sincerity, Read This One!

Sincerity_Charles_Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon and Sincerity

“Sincerity makes the very least person to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite.” – Charles Spurgeon.
Building and investing in relationships means building and investing in trust. In my last article, trust was defined as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” This holds true whether you working on building trust in yourself with others, or assessing whether others (loved ones, strangers, pets, organizations, businesses, politicians, whomever…) are worth risking the corresponding valuable thing (feelings, safety, economic well-being, future of the country, etc.)

Sincerity is a key component to building trust.

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FOCUS: Are They Twist Ties or Trust Ties?

Trust

Trust is more than a High Five!

Building trust is vital and required.
If you aren’t found to be trustworthy, that pretty much puts the end to having the kind of impact you want to have, whether personally or in business. While the same goes for those around you, you are the only one that can work on your own trustworthiness.

This week I read another mind-provoking article by Valeria Maltoni entitled “What Do We Do About Trust?”.  This led me to get a copy of a book mentioned in the article, The Thin Book of Trust by Charles Feltman, which I devoured in a couple hours. If you have a couple of hours (plane trip, hot afternoon on the patio, etc.) I recommend this. It is relatively short, very well written and focused on the topic in a way that you can absorb and use.

I am utterly fascinated by all of the relationship, network, cognitive and behavioral topics that surround us as human beings in our society and how they influence and guide our businesses and personal lives. Whether psychological studies into why we act the ways we do as they apply and “infect” other areas of study (like Behavioral Economics…how this influences how we actually make choices, both as business owners and consumers, and being aware of the WHY of these actions), to the kinds of thought and work that can make your business more effective, including marketing, VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community) and content research/strategies, along with the kinds of cognitive bias that keep us from being as successful and happy (…frankly…) as we can be. Much like the world of physics crawling toward The Grand Unifying Theory of Everything (not to be confused with the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything…), I feel there are a lot of overlaps and supporting science and studies that lead to A Grand Unifying Theory of How We Actually Think and Get Along.

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FOCUS: Introducing a Summer Reading Sampler!

Summer Reading

Ah….summer reading!

I frequent the Conversation Agent blog published by Valeria Maltoni regularly, and take away more food for thought than I get from any other blog. She recently posted an article containing a Summer reading list. Heading into the last full month of summer (although here in the Pacific Northwest it actually feels like the first full month, as the summer to date has been rather cool and moist….), I felt this was a great idea and opportunity to bring to light a number of works I have or am reading and the ways they have enhanced by thoughts and are enriching who I am and making my business more worthwhile.

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FOCUS: Is It Destiny or Just a Feeling…or WHAT?

Decisions and Discernment

Decisions and Discernment

How do you arrive at the thing or things to focus on every day?
There are innumerable items that float through my brain every day, usually just at the time the alarm goes off (if I’m lucky and don’t wake up early…). Living in a particularly woodsy area of the Pacific Northwest, I liken them to looking out my window and seeing all of the trees and such swaying in the wind. I can’t count them all, but they all attract some bit of attention and, at the same time, join in a constantly moving vista that can leave me a bit awestruck and frozen first thing in the morning. They are pretty as trees, but when translated into the metaphor of all the items and actions vying for my attention and prioritization, it’s overwhelming.

Some things are easy. Morning routine (everything to the point where I’m ready to “go to work”, whatever that looks like today…), followed by checking my calendar AGAIN (I’ve already looked at it a couple of times to triple check when my first meeting is, if there is one…). Like you, some days have more than others. The days that have one or no meetings are more difficult, really. Relatively “open” days require me to inspect the pile of things to do and, minding my own best times for productivity and creative work, prioritize and dig in accordingly. Not always easy.

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FOCUS: Surviving Trust and Lies

Trustworthiness Global Poll from Hubspot

Trustworthiness Global Poll from Hubspot

Who do you trust?  No really…..
During my regular scouring of quality content this week I found an article by Ben Jacobson at Hubspot entitled “How to Build Trust Online: 7 Little Ways to Create a Trustworthy Website“. While the bulk of the article was about the things you could do to enhance the trustworthiness of your web site, it started me thinking about the characteristics of trustworthiness as it applies to Small-to-Medium-Business (SMB) owners and their Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community (VACC).

Trust is about being authentic in building relationships. Because we don’t come face-to-face with our VACC online, it can be very easy to forget their humanity. It is so important to remember this regularly, because building trust with the person sitting next to you at the Chamber of Commerce lunch or your next door neighbor is not that different.  It takes time, investment, provides some kind of value to both parties and consists of a lot of active listening…..among other things!

Take a look at the infographic from Hubspot at the top of this article from their recent research on trustworthiness. Half of us trust our doctors and firefighters. Why is that? No definitive answers (and half of us don’t!), but consider the role of these two professions in our lives. They can have life-or-death interventions in emergency situations, and we HAVE to trust them in those times. What are you going to do? Doubtfully send the firefighter away while your home burns down?!

Scan a bit further down and some of these results are….well, surprising. We trust professional musicians more than journalists. We trust our baristas (…wow…) more than investment bankers or stockbrokers. Marketers and salespeople are way down there, and yet we trust either of them more than the people we literally choose to represent us in government.  YIKES….

Circling back to my earlier assertion about authenticity, part of trust will be based upon the perception of truth-telling. What I mean by that is, for example, comparing my dentist and my stockbroker: what is the likelihood that this person will be transparent to me when asked a question? Is this person committed to what’s good for me as well as what may benefit them (most of us are OK with a “fair exchange of value”…)? How likely am I to get a complete and clear answer from them concerning our relationship, what they really need and/or want from me to do what’s right, and active listening on their part (and mine) when discussing those things?  Apparently, most of us will trust our dentist more (although it looks like I might have better luck with a teacher….a pretty gratifying statistic, as an educator….).

Another article I read this week from Valerie Maltoni entitled “How Good Leaders Tell if Someone is Lying” discussed some unnerving data about how comfortable we are with lying and how frequently we do so in our everyday activities. Lying is so ingrained into our culture and behavior, and influenced by our being uncomfortable with the truth (and what others think of us…) that the incidence and unconscious aspect of it was surprising to me. While the article speaks to ways of helping us learn the truth as leaders, I believe it also correlates highly to real and perceived truth-telling in the role relationships mentioned earlier. There are certainly situations in the lives of every person who holds a role listed in the infographic where exposing the unvarnished truth to another person or persons becomes a matter of self-preservation (probably the highest likelihood of NOT telling the truth…), through embarrassment, self-incrimination (no one wants to get caught doing something immoral, illegal or fattening…) to various degrees of trying to look good in front of others. What drives a lie is a constant swirling mix in each person and situation, although there is a lot of analysis written to try to figure it out and nail it down, for our own good and the good of our society.

So if a basis of trust is authenticity, what does look like to your business?

Over-sharing is not authenticity, for sure. That can make the communication all about you and will likely scare the daylights out of your VACC. Instead, communicate like you converse. While you want to showcase your professionalism (so watch your spelling and grammar!), you don’t want your posts or other writing come sound like it was written by a robot or a “marketing chatbot”. Stay away from trite phrases, overused and vague words”, and pretty much anything that isn’t part of your unique voice. It remains my firm belief that one of the most valuable tools in your business’s online toolbox is your unique voice. If you’re not sure what that is or how to express it online, get some expert help and start building up your strengths.

Another strong factor is that of social proof. The Wikipedia definition is, “Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.” What that means is that it plays a big role in trust. Online, it looks like testimonials, Likes, shares and comments, fewer stock photos and more photos of real people (preferably those in your organization or close network…), “Featured in…” logos and links, and so on. It is word-of-mouth, referral marketing, but in the context of what is doable and of value online. Studies have shown that people are more likely to consider and buy from businesses that others they know and trust. To the degree you can enlist the help of your VACC in this endeavor, you build the trust of others in you and what value you actually deliver.

One last thing you can do that will help build trust: make the relationship you’re working on about your VACC and not about you. Place their businesses, their lives and their stories at the center of your attention. As humans, we are attracted to stories…..really good stories, well told, with ourselves (or others LIKE ourselves..) at the center. Your VACC will be turned off by a constant stream of “here’s what my company is all about and the solutions we deliver and why you need to buy from us RIGHT NOW!” Instead, publish stories about empowerment where the VACC is the hero. Highlight one of your best customers in a story…..not only will they LOVE the free positive exposure for them and their business, but you may end up with an unpaid evangelist for your business.

If you’re looking at your pipeline and your existing VACC and want to deepen the level of trust with them, you’re already looking down the right path.

Need help with this? Let’s talk!

FOCUS: The Trouble with Your Audience

Audience Research and Stage Fright

Is this you in front of your audience?

Can there be stage fright when there’s no stage?

In a previous life, I was a professional musician. Thanks to my family and predisposition for wanting attention as a kid, I have been lucky when it comes to getting butterflies in my stomach before going before groups. A certain amount of “on edge” is good, since it helps me to focus (I have to be careful about amping up too hard, but that’s another story…). However, over the years I have met many more people for whom performing or speaking to a group, regardless of the size or safety of that group, is met with the same enthusiasm as a long overdue, serious discussion with their dentist (apologies to dentists everywhere….).

Do all the hard research. Discover where your audience is living online. Figure out what they’re passionate about and how you can provide them with some world-class, relevant, useful, valuable and entertaining stuff. Create and start executing on your plan.  Great!

So, now you’ve got a problem, although it’s a good one to have. You’ve set some expectations for these folks. You need to deliver…..consistently. Maybe not every single hit will be “out of the park”, but most of them need to be. Now the stage fright starts to set in, right? what if you’ve already delivered what you think is the best that you have to offer? What then?

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FOCUS: What About Customer Experience and Relationships?

Visitors Audience Customers Community

On the lookout for…?

“Relationships?! How do you do that when your business is all about selling boxes of widgets? Folks come to my site, order them and I ship them out…”

This is a common question. You have always viewed your company as one that makes something that others buy (hopefully more than once…), and then you make sure they get it. Pretty much the definition of “transactional”, and, especially if you operate an e-commerce site, you only know them by a name, address and order number. It doesn’t look like the opportunities to establish and grow a relationship, as you’re thinking of it, are that ripe.

…or are they?…

I’ve written before about a descriptive construct I call the VACC. It stands for Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community. There are different ways of looking at the people who interact with your business: The Customer Journey, the Sales Funnel, and so on. Viewing these people through the VACC lens focuses on the stage of the relationship they have with you business, and how you communicate and interact with them. Each stage is valuable and there is no hard line dividing them. Nonetheless, knowing, in greater depth, what each set of these people are looking for, how they act and react to you and your business, what their expectations are, and how you can communicate with them is vital to your business growth. Not knowing is the same as tossing your product out on to a virtual (or real…) sidewalk and hoping the right folks come by.

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FOCUS: Can You Measure the Hard Things?

English: Red button.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all want things to be easy. And it’s not just business, American or Western Society that defaults to easy. While I still worked at Microsoft, one of my managers got our entire team “Easy Buttons.” You pressed the Big Red Button and a voice said, “That Was Easy!”
If only….
We have a few things working against us:

  • The problems and challenges we face today (business, societal and personal) are complex with no simple answers. The kind of effort required to tackle them can’t be splintered into micro-moments of attention (better known as “multi-tasking”…). We need big blocks of time, and lots of them, to work through these things.
  • Our culture prizes Fast, Immediate, Responsive, 24/7/365 over taking the time to gain the ability to learn hard things more quickly and produce at an elite level (so we move past “good enough” to “WOW!”).
  • The difficulty of measuring the complex over the simple (an example – “audience engagement” versus a Facebook page “Like”).
  • The tendency to answer a simpler question when confronted with a difficult one (more on that shortly…).
 As business owners and entrepreneurs, what does this mean?

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FOCUS: CAN’T SEE IT? YOU REALLY NEED HELP!

You are Very, Very Good at what you do!
That’s one of the reasons you started your business. You’re good at it and you love to do it. So, becoming your own boss seemed like the way to focus in on this passion and expertise, and deliver the benefits to others who are willing to pay you for it. Seems simple, right?

You read a few books, talked to some other friends and maybe even a few other business owners….even took a class or seminar. They shared their experiences and support for this move in your professional life and told you, “GO FOR IT!” You did some research and maybe even made your proof-of-concept available to some people, getting feedback and valuable input. None of this was easy, and you discovered a few things that set you back a bit and maybe even discouraged you, but you are determined….no turning back!

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