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Month: September 2015

Connections

Why Settle for Networking When We Can be Connecting?

Connections

What is the first reaction you have to the word, “networking”? Is it positive or is it negative? What about the word, “connecting”? Do you have the same reaction to it as you do to “networking”? If not, why not?

Perhaps it is just my own idiosyncrasy but more and more, I really don’t like the word “networking”. For some reason, it seems pretty cold and “me-focused” whereas “connecting” seems to be warmer and a whole lot more collaborative to me.

This article isn’t meant to offend those who love “networking”, fancy themselves as “master networkers”, or those who love “network marketing”. My goal is to take a closer look at the nuances and hopefully draw all of us into more introspective look beyond the semantics.

The “networking” call out of the blue that makes you wonder, “Why are you REALLY calling me?” I remember meeting a guy at church a long time ago when I was struggling to connect in a new city during a difficult time in my life. That same afternoon, I got a call from my new acquaintance out of the blue. For a moment I thought, “This is great. I just met this guy. It is nice to know that someone could sense my pain and actually cares about me.”

Unfortunately, after we got past 30 seconds of pleasantries, the REAL reason for his call became apparent. He had a “business opportunity” for me. (Actually, it was a “network marketing business opportunity” that was apparently more about how I and others in his “down line” could benefit HIM.) When I asked him if it was “insert your favorite multi-level marketing name here”, he finally came clean. It made me wonder, “If what you have is so great, why do you have to disguise the kind of company or even the name?”

Granted, not all network marketing “opportunities” are bad nor are all networkers or network marketers self-absorbed. It is just my experience that the vast majority of these “networking” calls are rarely altruistic or collaborative. They are often highly conditional. As long as I buy (or have the prospect of buying) what you’re selling, you’ll be there for me. As soon as it becomes apparent that I’m not buying what you’re selling, crickets…

But I’m in business development. Don’t I need to be networking? Even before I had an official role in business development when I was running companies or working within Fortune 100 companies, I was interested in building bridges, forging relationships, and looking for opportunities to collaborate. I think it is more fun to collaborate than to be a solo performer. (That’s probably another reason I’m a drummer. I think drums are at their best as part of a larger ensemble.)

People have often said I’m a natural networker. I used to embrace that term until I had seen the dark side of “networking”. Unfortunately, I’ve seen “networking” at its self-serving worst also destroy trust, relationships, and even a company that I really loved. As a result, my repulsion for that term continues to grow.

Because I’ve had (and still have) the responsibility of bringing in business for my company, I get the fact that dollars must still roll in as a result of my efforts to forge relationships and help others. However, I don’t believe connecting with others must be a quid pro quo deal where it is, “As long as you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” I also don’t believe it should be a zero sum game that says, “Only one can win so I must win and you must lose” or “If you win, that means I must lose.” I’ve worked with people who actually behaved as though that was an immutable law of the universe and frankly, I reject that.

Is it possible for me to genuinely seek to serve or help someone else and still ask for assistance without hiding “the ask” or making my assistance conditional? Call me naïve but I say, “Absolutely!”

Not that I’m a master at this because I’m ashamed to say that at times I’ve been pretty self-serving in my efforts to “network”. As I’ve reflected back on such times, the root cause of descending from “relationship-building” (or “connecting”) to a more self-serving, “networking” mode has occurred when I’ve been under pressure to perform, close a sale, or just make something happen quickly.

Even though I’m a natural relationship builder, I still have to be especially cognizant of my motivations when I’m under high levels of pressure to perform. I’ve found that in such times, I must be intentional and ask myself these two questions:

  1. “What is my motivation for making this connection?”
  2. “Am I willing to help and/or serve them even if they aren’t buying what I’m selling now or down the road?” (NOTE: That seems to be the fundamental question that separates “networking” from “connecting”.)

Once I know the answers to these questions, I find that I’m usually in the frame of mind that I can make it clear and honestly address why I’m trying to connect with them. If I am connecting with them in hopes that they can help me directly or help connect me with someone who can help me, I try to tell them that early in the discussion.

I think people value authenticity and often genuinely like to help others. I know I do. In such times of overt political correctness and sanitized language, we’re seeing a backlash against career politicians because clever sound bites and outright lies are getting really long in the tooth. I find myself respecting someone who just gives it to me straight (even if it hurts) far more than someone who tells me what I want to hear but either doesn’t follow through or even worse, does the exact opposite of what they told me they were going to do. Authenticity is refreshing. Seeing people unselfishly serve others without strings attached is beautiful.

Here’s a recent example… This past spring, I had just finished a several-month consulting assignment in Cleveland. While we appreciate the relationships formed and many experiences we had during our 13 winters in Chagrin Falls, OH, my wife and I were itching to return to Carolina blue skies and move back to the city we love, Charlotte, NC. The only problem: My unconventional career path and my level of experience (age) made it rather difficult to turn my online resume submissions into interviews eight hours away from our residence in OH. If I had any hope of finding employment back in the Queen City, it became clear that I needed to head to Charlotte and spend at least a couple of weeks meeting with people, reconnecting with friends, and forming new relationships.

I didn’t think I was really in a position where I was able to meaningfully serve someone in my position as I needed to find a job relatively soon. I began my “connecting adventure” back in Charlotte by merely asking friends if they could help me make some meaningful connections. Before I knew it, my friends made connections for me with other people who were more than willing to help a stranger like me. I am humbled when I think about the grace and generosity that others unselfishly extended to me.

I didn’t go into any of these meetings with the expectation that my friends or their referrals were going to give me the job I was seeking. However, I was hoping to:

  1. Make meaningful connections across the city of Charlotte that might result in long-term friendships regardless of whether or not they led me to the right job.
  2. Serve as a conduit or connector for these old and new relationships so as to help someone else along the way.
  3. Find the right professional fit with a company that needed my skills and had compatible values with mine.

To my surprise, all three of these things happened. My job hunting trip to Charlotte resulted in a six-week adventure filled with 90 meaningful meetings. The bulk of those meetings happened because I had friends who were willing to connect me with others who met with me, heard my story, and thoughtfully connected me with others who they thought might be able to help me in my quest.

Along the way, I met some AMAZING people who genuinely fascinated me. Once I got to know a bit of their story, I was even able to connect some of them with friends of mine who I thought they would click with professionally and enjoy a “win-win” relationship.

Sometimes, when we seek to serve others ahead of ourselves, magic happens. During my Charlotte job hunting journey, a friend recommended that I meet with someone at RGP, a global management consultancy. Even though I initially thought there would never be a fit for me there, I went to the meeting primarily to honor my friend’s introduction.

Shortly after I first met some of the RGP team members and learned more about their company and culture, I introduced two of my friends to RGP because I thought that both RGP and my friends would benefit from knowing one another. I honestly didn’t connect my friends to RGP with any thought that I would benefit from the intro. I did so because I genuinely love connecting great people. It is a blast to connect great people with one another, step back, and watch the magic happen!

In spite of my desire (and need) to land a meaningful role and the harsh reality that my need was seemingly unmet at the time when I made some of these introductions, I remembered the advice that a friend and former business partner told me on a day in which we collectively received some depressing news about a business situation years ago. He said, “Given this news, there’s one thing I really need to do to help get my eyes off of myself and this pain. I need to go serve someone else.” He was known for routinely putting action to those very words and I’ve tried to do the same. His words of wisdom were burned into my mind and they have helped liberate my soul.

Much to my surprise, that “random” first meeting with RGP that was based on an introduction from a friend not only led me to connect two good friends to them, it ultimately resulted in a job for me! In my determination to honor friendships and serve others, I was blind-sided with a blessing that I never imagined would come from that initial connection – a unpublished position that had my name on it.

To “network” or “connect”? That is the question. Now that my current role is largely focused on business development and helping our team grow the Carolinas office of RGP (as well as the global enterprise), I must be deliberate and purposeful in assessing my motivations. Will I compromise and settle for a short-term, often self-centered “networking” approach to developing business relationships or will I choose a long-term, others-focused approach of “connecting” and serving?

Granted, impressive sales performance isn’t guaranteed with either approach. I know plenty of people who are known for churning through people and relationships who routinely get impressive sales results. Even so, I find myself believing that we can still enjoy solid sales results AND build lasting, relationships along the way by seeking to genuinely connect with them versus merely seeing these connections as a means to an end.

I hope that this article will encourage each of us to routinely ask ourselves, “What is my motivation and my approach to building this relationship?” coupled with, “Am I willing to help and/or serve them even if they aren’t buying what I’m selling now or down the road?” In doing so, we’ll likely experience the magic of “connecting” with one another versus simply relegating one other to just another member of our “network”.

Become a Lead-Generating Machine

The sales process starts with the ability to generate leads, aka people who have an interest in learning more about your business. It’s the inability to create sufficient lead flow that prevents most companies from substantial growth.

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If you can get lead flow right, hang on and enjoy the ride! Or, let this continue to be your sales constraint and get left behind – or “dropped,” as we call it in the mountain bike racing world. Getting dropped sucks!

One you have identified your Core Customer and have clarity on the Buyer Persona, create a multi-channel plan to connect and generate leads. Buyers are not one-dimensional – they take in information from multiple sources, so you need to think about where they regularly find information, then hit them with information there.

12 Places Your Leads Might Find You

Here is a list of lead-generation channels to explore. Pick what is right for you based on your Core Customer’s Buyer Persona.

  1. Content marketing
  2. SEO and AdWords
  3. Create events – you are the subject-matter expert
  4. Outside sales teams
  5. Inside sales teams
  6. Outsourced door openers
  7. Group affiliations or sponsorships
  8. Partnerships – Channel Sales
  9. Trade shows or industry events
  10. Social media
  11. Traditional PR
  12. Write a book or do speaking engagements
  13. What else makes sense for your industry or your Core Customer?

Look for the 3-5 channels you can focus on. You might ask, “Why not just focus on one channel and go deep?” The answer is that things can change that are out of your control. I see many companies going all-in with an inbound marketing strategy tied to the Web hoping to make the phone ring. Great idea, but what happens when Google changes the content-ranking algorithm? Your 1st page rank is now number 4, and it will take money and time to get it back on top.

Instead, start by working with your team to create a list of 3-5 channels to focus on, and create 3-year, 1-year and 90-day targets and goals. Then create a 90-day action plan to put your multi-channel strategy into motion.

(Image: TaxCredits.net / Flickr)

Stop Reviewing Your Employees

employees-936804_1280Performance reviews suck for so many reasons. Entrepreneurs avoid them, because there are way too many other things to do. Managers rarely do them right, and if they do, they don’t prepare properly. Employees hate them because they usually are tied to negative things and money. They usually happen only once a year … if they happen.

Yet, if performed correctly, they are one of the most powerful things a company can do. I speak from experience, having won “Best Places to Work” awards more than 20 times at companies I have founded or coached.

What you need to do instead of a review:

Rather than a typical review, what’s really needed is a formal Alignment Meeting. The overarching purpose is for the manager and employee to walk away with complete clarity and actions that drive the job role: the accountabilities, the goal numbers, etc. Reviewing all the company’s Core Values is a powerful method to make sure the employee is doing the work the right way from a behavioral perspective. For example, do you have a sales superstar who drives your customer service team to tears? This is a great way to address the issue in a collaborative and non-threatening way.

Also missing from most reviews is spending some time discussing the Core Processes and Activities that drive the job function – the ones that have the most impact. Ask what is the most important thing to do and is it on the calendar weekly as a priority item? What processes support the core activities? And what things create busyness but do not really drive results? Simple process with powerful outcomes.

Here are 8 tips to pull off a powerful Alignment Meeting:

  1. Be prepared. Treat this as the number one thing you’ll do as a manager. This is your A-Race. Set an example of preparedness. This is how your employees will do their Alignment Meetings with their employees down the line.
  1. Create a great experience with your employee. This is not a beat-down session. It’s about getting alignment around what is important and agreement on what can be worked on in the next 90 days.
  1. Use the word Together. Work on action plans Together. You’ll be surprised at how many times you’ll walk away from leading an Alignment Meeting with stuff to work on and improve on as well.
  1. Create a safe environment for candor. Not making this a review tied to money is the trick to this.
  1. Tell them why this is important. I’ll say something like, “I care about you and your health and happiness, I care about our relationship and our willingness to work Together, and I care about doing the right things to move our company forward. This conversation is about these three things.”
  1. Pick 2-3 things to work on each 90 days. Look for themes or “red threads” throughout the conversation. Don’t nitpick each line item. Ask what can we work on that would drive the most improvement … create the biggest impact?
  1. Be vulnerable as the manager. This will help you get to the real issues your employee is dealing with at work. You can’t help fix what you don’t know about. Put your ego aside.
  1. Have fun! You both should walk out totally energized! Don’t be surprised if you get an unexpected hug, handshake or even some happy tears.

Never do another review. Stop, please!!! Instead, start Alignment Meetings now!

(Image: Marlon Malabanan / Flickr)

Know Your Competition

Know Your Competition

As a professional mountain bike racer, I always know what my BreakAway Move™ is going to be before I start a race. This begins by knowing the course, things like: Where are the blind turns? How long and steep are the climbs? What are the technical sections like? Where are the good places to hydrate?
Next, I have to Know My Competition and think about what each racer’s strengths and weaknesses are. Who is in peak form? Who can really crush hill climbs? Who is wicked fast in the technical sections? Who is just really fast on this course?

Based on my data, I craft my BreakAway Move before the race and decide WHEN I’m going to drop the hammer and Crush the Competition! This is a HUGE mechanism for conserving energy andbike-race-446104_960_720 winning a race.

Your business works the exact same way. You need two to three BreakAway Moves you are always working on and it’s imperative that you Know Your Competition, whether you’re preparing for a race or a business deal. Here are 12.5 steps to start mapping out your competition to plan and execute your BreakAway Move.

How to map your competition

To get started, open a new spreadsheet on your computer and fill it out with the following 12.5 steps.

1. On the vertical axis (rows) write down all of your competitors and the companies that could be your competitors in the future.

Then fill in the horizontal axis (columns) for each competitor with the rest of these steps.

2. Write down as many attributes as you can think of that can describe your competition.

3. What core businesses are they in? Just your line of work, multiple lines of work? If multiple, what are they?

4. Who are their suppliers?

5. Who is their target market? Their Core Customer?

6. How are they funded?

7. What is their Brand Promise? Their differentiating activities in the market?

8. What space are they trying to own? Their geography?

9. Where are they stronger than you?

10. Where are they weaker than you?

11. Add links to their website(s) for quick reference.

12. What words or phrases are they trying to own?

12.5. What are THEIR BreakAway Moves??!!

Creating a great strategy to win begins by knowing your competition, and these 12.5 steps should get you started. You may think of other things to add to your spreadsheet — please let me know what you come up with.

Now create your plan and go after your Epic Win™!!!

(Image: jp26jp/ Pixabay)

The Most Powerful Word: TOGETHER

“The Best Team Wins.” It’s a common mantra everyone believes — for good reasons. Whether in business or in sports, the organization with the best team, and not necessarily the best players, wins the most.4431896656_56d2908af7_z

But in business today, what does TEAM really mean? In our roles, how do we really work together? Side by side, virtually, not at all? The answer is … the traditional definition of team and how we work may not be what you think.

In “Managers Can Motivate Employees with One Word,” an article published by the Harvard Business Review, author Heidi Grant Halvorson explored the concepts of teams in the workplace. It’s really the FEELING of working together that has been shown to predict motivation — and the highly coveted employee engagement that brings high performance and results.

Research by Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton of Stanford University has proven that when people FEEL LIKE they are working together on a task, (even when in fact they may not be) they worked 48% longer, solved more problems correctly, and had better recall for what they had seen. They also had more energy after the task. … More fuel left over for other things.

Together It Is

Simply saying the word “TOGETHER” could be the new most powerful word a company leader or team leader can say to create a high-performance work environment. More than team, this one powerful word instantly reminds employees that they are connected, not alone and disconnected.

I’ve put this concept into action. As a coach, I have changed my vocabulary on this. I used to say, “Team, let’s work on the annual goals.” Now I say, “Let’s work on creating our annual goals TOGETHER.”

How can you use this powerful social cue to the brain? Take a moment and envision when and where you can integrate this into your daily habits.

(Image: YassIn Hasan / Flickr)