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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GO DEEP: Strong & Weak Ties – Your Genuine Challenge?

Strong Ties and Weak Ties

Strong Ties and Weak Ties

Once upon a time, there were “Strong Ties” and “Weak Ties” in business.

Strong Ties existed between you and your best customers. You interacted frequently and knew each other well. The bulk of your business was from and through these Strong Ties. It took some work. Maintaining them required a big investment of time and effort, but the benefits of business, the sharing of high-quality information, and the transfer of complex or “hidden” industry knowledge was well worth the effort.

Weak Ties were…well…weak. However, over time there was a declining ROI of time and effort in a network based on mostly Strong Ties. Weak Ties exposed you (and the Ties) to a broader span of knowledge, expertise and opportunity. Exposure to more diverse information and resources has been shown to drive higher rates of radical innovation, and be especially useful when you have a tough problem to crack.

How things stand today?
It’s complicated…
First, there are roughly 2 billion social media users in the world.

Billion…..with a B.

Second, according to McKinsey Global Institute, at least 70% of companies are using some form of social media. Online search and social media sites have increasingly become the primary, if not sole, source of information for individuals and businesses alike.  These have largely displaced traditional sources such as printed company literature, the Yellow Pages and business directories. Organizations no longer have control over what is disseminated about them. As one publication states, “most of what is said about the company will not be said by the company” (AT&T, 2011). In a recent global consumer survey by BrightLocal, 88% of respondents said that they place greater trust in other people’s online recommendations for products and services than in other sources. The significance of this is reflected in the growing popularity of consumer websites based almost entirely on personal reviews, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, and the dominant role of consumer reviews on leading e-commerce sites such as Amazon, eBay, and Facebook Business pages.

OK, so Weak Ties are becoming more important, Strong Ties are evolving, and you have a business to run. What does this mean that you do?

  • You need to develop new relationship-based associations with your customers and other social media participants (All Ties…), especially to build and maintain brand loyalty and to manage or at least influence what is being said about you online. Instead of just disseminating information about the organization and its products, you need to actively participate in the discussions on social media sites and develop other methods to engage Internet users. Most people deal with information overload when surfing the Web or visiting social media sites, so you need to design and implement content and initiatives that are interesting, entertaining or thought-provoking, to capture and hold their attention.
  • You will also be judged by the way in which you respond to online customer feedback, especially negative comments or complaints. Your reputation is on the line here, since everyone on the Internet can observe the interaction and judge accordingly. You need to develop and maintain not just a brand but an online personality which is likeable and well-respected and with which individuals can develop a real sense of familiarity and emotional connection. It is now often argued that ROI on marketing should now be measured not in traditional sales terms, but in terms of “return on engagement”. What is important is a measurement of engagement or emotional investment in the brand, such as active participation on the company website or favorable references to it in blog posts. These not only translate into longer-term individual loyalty but also help to attract additional followers who may become fans and customers.
  • Key in both the B2B and the B2C social media contexts is the ability to identify and build relationships with “key influencers” in the business network or target market. Jay Baer writes about this topic regularly with keen insight. This observation returns us neatly to the concept of social networks and the concept of weak and strong ties. In order to achieve the desired business objectives, there is a need to plumb the mass of online users and identify those likely to have the greatest impact. Within social networks, for example, there are usually key individuals or “trusted experts” who have established a strong reputation in their field. You need to make positive connections with a few key influencers who will transmit positive information about you. This is likely to be much more effective a strategy, and much less resource-intensive, than direct relationship-building with large numbers of people in the target market. Similarly, when a business partner or expert is needed, it can be invaluable to locate and build a relationship first with a “critical enabler” or “trusted advisor” who can offer not only detailed knowledge of the relevant industry niche and its participants, but who also knows the key decision makers personally and can help arrange an introduction or advise on the best approach to them. The old saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know” applies.
  • Curtis & Lewis (2010) argue that in order to develop effective relationships with key enablers or other stakeholders, the principle of progressive reciprocity should be followed, in which something of value is offered to the other party at the outset, not just after an offer of help is secured. You might benefit from developing and maintaining strong ties with key influencers or critical enablers who are likely to provide ongoing value and benefits in return. At the same time, you should maintain a wider network of weak ties with other stakeholders who hold relevant knowledge, expertise or market influence. One strategy that is likely to be effective across the board is to establish the your company itself, or individuals within it, as trusted experts in a particular subject area, for example by publishing well-researched, informative articles or blog posts on relevant topics.
Business relationships in the early 21st century have become much less binary and much more fuzzy. Your opportunity here is to establish a bit of order out of the seeming chaos online, think differently about relationship-building and your VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community), and realize the untapped potential for explosive business growth this presents to you.

Go on……we’re waiting to hear from you!

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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Can You Attack the Same Problems with Novel Perspectives?

Strategizing

Strategizing

A hundred people at an event heard the word “Strategy” as part of a presentation I gave recently. Likely there were at least a hundred different interpretations and mental pictures that lit up for the attendees, some very related and others quite different from the others. Each was a product of their experience, education, beliefs and prejudices. This fact gets to the heart of effective, and ineffective, communication….always a challenge, but a well known one. As Valeria Maltoni has written, “There is more to semantics than meets the eye.”

Just like having a solid business plan, having a marketing strategy that supports and advances that plan is crucial to success. Many programs, classes, books, and online tools (along with tips and suggestions of varying degrees of helpfulness….) may help you assemble a business plan that will pass muster and get you going. To many entrepreneurs and business owners, though, marketing strategy embodies a different kind of geography in their thoughts and can have too many connotations to list. Nonetheless, here are two thoughts you need to consider, regardless of your particular definition:

  • Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. – Japanese Proverb
  • However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.  – Attributed to Winston Churchill
What does a strategy get you? It can establish a specific direction, a foundational launch pad, for your business, focus your resources, generate a plan that is both effective and agile, and give you a reliable way to “gut check” your direction and efforts over time. Most business owners I have met are world-class technicians, but struggle with strategy. Even those who have had some education and experience in that area can suffer from being too close to their particular industry and business, thereby missing the “We don’t know what we don’t know” gaps in what they put together. What they need to do is get some expert help putting together (or reworking…) their marketing strategy….bring someone on board to view these problems in new and novel ways.

All of the books, articles, templates and other information inputs we encounter bang on about the importance of goals. When I initially think of goals, especially in the U.S., I am presented with the mental picture of a football goal post. This implies that once I Hit The Goal, I’m done. Of course, many of the resources I mentioned earlier encourage you set new goals, circling back and starting the circle of attainment over again. That just feels kind of jerky to me. In her article “On Strategizing” Maltoni quotes Scott Adams on why a system is more useful than goals:

“For our purposes, let’s agree that goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in your life. Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction. My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals.”

I tell my clients that, once they build and initialize their strategy, implementation becomes a “horse they cannot get off of.” The majority of them are not happy with that message. As a business owner, if they’re involved in a project, they want it to be a project….that is, it is this lump of work that they (or the hired expert…) can complete and get off of my desk, so they can move onto the next project and get back to selling their products and services. When reminded of the importance of working ON the business as well as working IN the business, and how it strengthens the business, the strategizing process and system look much more valuable and key to growth. The dynamics of every business now require a consistent process and may require much more frequent course corrections than in the past (or in the past as we perceived it…). A sustainable business depends on making dynamic choices. Regular, if not constant, co-ordination of the current state of things with what is on hand to work them out is the new norm….fixed objectives are not viable because of the more frequent and unknowable disruptions our society and world endure daily.

So, the novel view: A Strategy feels like a “One-And-Done” item which, sadly and frequently, ends up in a filing cabinet. Strategizing is an action word. It’s something you do with some kind of frequency because of the need for it in your business. Again, many business owners are not expert strategizers, and that’s OK. As I mentioned, they are world-class technicians for their business’ focus. Do some research, get some recommendations, and start up a valuable relationship with an expert strategizer for your business.

What could be more valuable than establishing your business system of growth and success, and not just “hit the sales goal for this quarter”?

Are You Interested in Working Through the Fear?

Fear, Performance and Your Business

What are you afraid of?

Holidays make many entrepreneurs and small business owners nervous.
On one hand, HURRAH! A holiday!
Depending on your business, you may be looking at numerous merry-makers coming to your shop and celebrating by indulging in a bit of “retail therapy.” A different kind of business is looking at turning a “regular” weekend into a three-day weekend, and one where a LOT of people (their employees included…) take some time, gas up the motor vehicle of choice, and head out for a vacation of some length. Sometimes these two collide and the owner can have a staffing problem, but, hey, just put in a few more hours yourself and you’ve got it covered right? But what happens if, on this more dangerous holiday weekend, somebody gets hurt or something? In between all the travelers, the uncertainty of fireworks (as one of my colleagues said, “Normal people with a few drinks in them setting off explosive devices….what could go wrong?“…) and the randomness of other accidents…well, there’s plenty to get wound up about.

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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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How Much Do You Compromise Your Planning?

Compromising position

If you don’t see it, it’s still there….

Planning is not something that comes naturally to a lot of small-to-medium business (SMB) owners.

Oh, we’re pretty good at planning out our day’s work, maybe setting up appointments and some are even pretty good at prioritization and time management. When we started out, we might have even gotten some help, or at least a copy of a template and some instructions for someplace, and created an time that we pronounced as our “business plan”. We promptly placed it in a folder, slapped it into a drawer of some kind, and proceeded to find some customers and get some work so we could get the revenue going. Besides, the primary we founded this business was so we could do something that we’re REALLY GOOD at and enjoyed doing. “As long as I’ve got a good pipeline of customers, I’m good!” has been the thought from the beginning. And that’s NOT entirely wrong…..but…..

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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!