Are you adding value?

I was in a management meeting not very long ago where everyone had something to say on almost every subject. The meeting went on, and on, and on….!

I was reminded of the quotation

“If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter”

The source of which is most probably Blaise Pascal – but of course the original was in French so it is not a direct translation.

I was also reminded of a talk given by my colleague in the Speakers’ Association, Peter Milligan, where he referred to some guidance he was given early in his career. I could summarise that as don’t speak unless you have something to add.

I’ve had the delights of doing business all over the world, often with companies and individuals where their first language is not English. Sometimes communication from these clients and prospects requires a level of interpretation – it is difficult to determine exactly what they mean – and it can be made far worse when they try to be polite and use elaborate language.

Even in the same office, unnecessary communication is an ever increasing time waster. I remember years ago taking a call from a colleague who was repeating some information he had previously send me in an email! One or the other, please not both!

How many emails do you get that you don’t need to respond to? How many that are copied to you for information only?

I heard some time ago of a manager who instructed his team not to send him emails unless they wanted him to take action. I am not sure I would go that far.

If you can make each business communication direct and to the point (still polite, of course) and each interjection in a meeting something that adds real value and moves the meeting forward, you will be much more productive and efficient.

Perception vs Reality

Many years ago I worked for a very high growth technology business and we were always in need of funding because we were growing so fast.

One of my English colleagues, Jonathan, took over from me as Finance Director for the Americas region whilst I went out to Hong Kong to set up Asia Pacific.

He decided to fulfil his dream by getting a Porsche, but the only car available was pink. He bought it anyway and was the subject of much hilarity in the office as a result.

The time came when we needed extra working capital so Jonathan and Mike, our treasury director, went to the bank in Silicon Valley to try and arrange this.

The bank manager looked out of the window, saw the car, and told them he would not be lending money to any business where the Finance Director drove a pink Porsche!

I am sure that was a tongue in cheek comment, but there’s a valid point here. Perception counts and what your customers, suppliers and your team perceive is all that matters.

So when you look at your business try to see it as a stranger would see it. What message does the tired reception area send, what message do the weeds in the carpark give?

If you review your website, and the last update was 9 months ago, what message are you sending?

If your team see you having a bad day and grumbling about something, what message do they get – and what message do they pass on to the customer?

Imagine for a moment that you wanted to perpetrate a fraud. How far would you go to project the best possible image so that your target would part with their money? You would not leave anything to chance.

In business, we overlook the perception because we think the reality will counter it – we think that reality counts, but that’s not true. Perception counts.

Put the right team together

Jim Collins, in his classic business book Good to Great, identifies getting the right people on the bus in the right seats as a fundamental step to business success.

That is a principle you can apply when you are looking at your internal teams and working parties, not just the top team than runs the whole business.

Teams and working parties can be a very powerful way of resolving problems, dealing with projects and enhancing business processes but only if the right people are in the team.

If the team doesn’t have the right composition it won’t be as successful.

A useful analogy may be that of rowing. Mark de Rond studied the rowers at Cambridge preparing for the university boat race and in particular the selection process.

It’s not just a case of choosing the 8 fastest oarsmen, but one of selecting the best combination of rowers even if some of those left out are faster as individuals.

In business, it may well be prudent to select potentially less able or less knowledgeable candidates for their ability to work together rather than creating a team all of whom are high achievers but who will not get on with each other.

For teams to be really effective there are several other factors to consider but right at the top of the list is communication. Everyone on the team has to be fully aware of the objectives of the team, but also to understand and accept their role within the team. The team will review progress and everyone affected will know what is happening and what the milestones are – so this is all about communication.

Teams can be a fantastic environment for individuals to develop new skills and experience but that requires the right ethos from the team and its leader. A no-blame learning environment, where mistakes are just an opportunity to get it right next time, is a great place to develop.

You need to give before you get

One of my colleagues shared an excellent video about networking just the other day. Mark E. Sackett describes how so many of us collect business cards, but then just fail to follow up or build any kind of relationship.

I have heard so many clients and colleagues tell me that networking just doesn’t work, yet that’s how I get the vast majority of my business – through referrals from my network.

That doesn’t mean that I go to a networking meeting, meet somebody there and they engage my services. I wish!

First of all, would you do that? Engage the services of someone you’ve only just met? That would be pretty rash.

I have a couple of points to make about networking:

We all know that people do business with people that they know, like and trust, so why expect someone to engage with you on the basis of the first meeting over a cup of coffee? How can you know, let alone like and trust someone on that basis?

The second point is that it is not about the people in the room. It’s about the people they know and the people they know. This is the “six degrees of separation” where everyone is connected to everyone else through just six connections.

So, for me the keys to effective networking are

To be interesting to the people you meet – and the easy way to do that is to be interested in them.

They have to know what you can do for them – and for their clients – but you don’t have to ram it down their throats at the first meeting.

Give before you get. Help others to help you – if you help someone, there’s a very good chance they will try to help you.

Stay in touch – whatever tool you use. I was referred recently by someone who was referred to me 9 years ago. I engaged with him for some tax advice (unpaid, just exploring an option) and 9 years later, he referred a client of one of his contacts looking for some strategic advice. He remembered me thanks to LinkedIn