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Your marketing sucks…

…said David Maister, of most professional service firms.

When Maister first presented his ideas on ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm’ and how to develop a position as ‘The Trusted Advisor’ (together with Charles Green and Robert Galford), he preached that success was less about the content of glossy brochures and more about the substance of relationships. I was (quite literally) in the room when Maister denounced all marketing as a waste of time and effort and urged the partners of a Global firm to ‘just get out there’ and demonstrate their value. I wholeheartedly agreed with Maister’s perspective, although I do think his definition of marketing was perjorative. His criticism was targeted at a specific genre of marketing – that which pushes and self-promotes rather than educates and validates.

Maister remains absolutely correct to this day. The road to riches is not paved with slick marketing brochures. Clients don’t buy your services simply because you’re open for business and have survived longer than the next guy. They don’t care about the founding fathers of your firm. Clients want to know three things:

  • How well do you understand my problems?
  • Have you resolved these kinds of problems before?
  • Will I enjoy working with you?

With the advances of social media and other technology there are so many more ways to answer these inherent questions and to develop a position as a trusted advisor. For those of us looking to change the way in-house counsel select and retain external service providers the following information might be useful to consider.

A 2013 Inside Counsel survey shows that more in-house counsel are turning to lawyer-generated blogs and online data sources for professional reasons (as much if not more than journalist-generated content)
Click here for a Bloomberg law interview and summary of the report.

My synopsisMany (most) usage by in-house counsel of new media channels is as a silent listener/consumer of data. They may not be actively engaging in online dialogue/discussion forums but they are certainly downloading information and being influenced by high quality content. They are forming impressions of lawyers who generate this content.

According to this survey of GCs, Chief Legal officers, Inhouse counsel and related titles, the primary factor influencing the potential hire of outside lawyers BY FAR is still (direct) recommendation from trusted sources (92% state this as very important to their decision).

Other factors affecting potential hire include:
• Bios on firm’s website (29% v imp, 62% somewhat imp),
• Articles and speeches authored by lawyer (18% v. imp, 61% somewhat imp)
• And blogs published by lawyers on topics of relevance to business (15% v. imp, 55% somewhat imp)

Interestingly – amongst the LEAST Influential factors affecting potential hire are peer-driven rankings like Chambers, Best Lawyers etc. with 39% of respondents saying these are not important to their decision to hire outside counsel.

This reinforces the message that creating and curating highly valuable content is essential to influencing change in the profession. So next time you approach your marketing team for a glossy brochure or practice sheet describing all the wonderful things you and your team can do – please STOP! Your time and energy would be better spent on creating thought-provoking and insightful commentary on the client issues you can resolve. Offer stories, examples, tips and guides that the marketing team can share on your behalf to create a positive impression of your expertise. That way – when someone refers you to another, your prospect will discover multiple validation points of your expertise (beyond your firm’s website).


Ten Ways to Engage Your Employees

It’s no secret that having a highly-motivated workforce is good for business. But can small and medium-sized businesses really compete with the employee engagement programs offered by larger competitors? The answer is yes. By following these ten tips, even organizations with a minimal budget can create an open, accountable and enriching environment for their staff:

1. Awards only go so far. ‘Employer of the year’ award programs are great ways to show that the organization is committed to the concept of engagement, but they do not guarantee an engaged workforce. Ineffective management can undermine even the most innovative employee incentive programs. Likewise, just because an organization has not submitted to external validation does not necessarily mean they are any less of an employer of choice for their staff.

2. If you want them to care, you have to care. This one is pretty straightforward. If you want people to commit their time, energy and commitment to things that matter to your organization, it pays to show an interest in your employees and their work. Remembering names and paying attention to the things they tell you about their families, special events, holidays, hobbies and interests is critical. This type of behaviour proves to your staff they are more than just a ‘resource’ for you. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Undercover Boss, you can see this very clearly. Sometimes, the best motivation comes from someone simply paying attention and listening.

3. Demand excellence and hold people accountable. While you may not condone his brutal leadership style, those who work with Gordon Ramsey seem to be highly engaged. A small compliment from Ramsey over a well-executed risotto can wash away the devastating critique he dished out only moments prior. And whatever you might think of Ramsey, he is a perfectionist who holds people accountable and expects them to live up to their potential. While you may not wish to be quite so aggressive in the workplace, it certainly pays to be real when it comes to performance. A tough critic who gives compliments sparingly and asks people to redo work that is not up to par can certainly drive engagement.

4. What you choose not to do is just as important. As a leader, your every action is being closely monitored by others. If someone is underperforming, the team expects you to deal with it. If you turn a blind eye, or worse yet, delegate an increased share of work to others to compensate for this weak link, your stronger performers will start questioning why they should work as hard as they do. Without the proper feedback, a weaker performer loses the opportunity to step up or find a better fit for their skills elsewhere.

5. Don’t let your lack of planning become someone else’s emergency. Putting something at the bottom of your pile until you get around to it, or until a creeping deadline makes it urgent, is a clear indication that the project is not important to you or the organization. Imagine how motivating it is then to be the one who has to deal with that last-minute emergency due to your procrastination or lack of planning. If it wasn’t important to you to do it sooner, then its not important enough for someone else to have to drop everything they are working on to make it happen, perhaps causing them to fall behind on other projects.

6. Help them discover their strengths. All employees want to see personal progression. For some that might mean promotion and financial reward, for others it could mean something more personal. It’s worth asking your employees what would make today, this week, this month or this year a worthwhile use of their time and then show them how to achieve their goals.

7. Ask for feedback. Find out what your employees consider the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and ask people what they would tell a new potential hire when asked “what does it mean to work here?” But be warned: Asking for feedback can be hazardous, especially if you try to make excuses or try justifying any shortfalls rather than seeking ways to fill the gaps.

8. Be open and transparent with your results. I’m always amazed by how many corporate workers are removed from the reality of the business results. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to generate an entrepreneurial level of engagement if your workers are not exposed to the financial information needed to make sound business decisions. Show them how to read a balance sheet. Teach them why certain business metrics and key indicators matter in your business and how their role contributes to the bottom line. Even if they are not in sales, they can make a proactive impact by reducing costs, eliminating redundancy and improving efficiency to increase profits.

9. Give people the space and time they need to explore new ideas. Being able to influence the future direction of the business can be very motivating. Often, front line workers who engage with customers or interact with your products genearlly have great ideas for improving your business. Unfortunately, those with the most direct access to improvement opportunities are also the people who have the least time and authority to think about solutions. Give junior members of the team the opportunity to explore beyond their job description. Minds not yet entrenched in organizational patterns are a prime breeding ground for new connections. But be careful to avoid not-invented-here syndrome and its close cousin “we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.” Fresh ideas plus new timing plus new champions may just be the combination needed to make it work and can be very motivating for those involved.

10. An engaged workplace is not a conflict-free zone. Constructive disagreement and collaborative debate amongst respected colleagues can be the source of great inspiration and engagement. On the other hand, conflicts that are buried can fester, creating dysfunction and disengagement. The important difference is a level of mutual respect, appreciation of diverse perspectives and a willingness to operate as if your answer is not the only way. Your role as a leader is to foster healthy debate. Encourage your people to explore alternatives to their own ideas and enable them to be honest with their differences.

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail Small Business – The Top Tens feature. Click here for the original

Sign me up to move mountains every time…

In a recent panel discussion at The Executive Roundtable about switching gears and changing careers mid-path, Colleen Albiston, Global Head of Tax Marketing for KPMG memorably stated that she focuses on turnarounds, new growth and marketing change…adding “I’m not your maintenance gal…” Colleen comes from a place of truly knowing where she adds value, and where she can do her best work. I love this very real and honest self-appraisal of what she is and isn’t about.  Very Buckingham-like.

When considering a change in role, Colleen urged the movers and shakers in the room to be absolutely clear what is expected, what changes the business really needs (not just what the say they want). Help the leaders get past their ‘planitudes’ (it is written in the plan, therefore it is…) and into the reality of what the changes are going to mean for them and their teams.

I confess, I subscribe to the Colleen Albiston school of thinking. I would far rather move mountains; take on big challenges; shine a light on what needs to change and what the implications of change might mean; go into a tough situation with eyes wide open; than step into an established role with a clear set of guidelines and benchmarked success rules to follow. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment but that’s just my bag. Its the explorer in me – I have a propensity for change that flies off the scale in most psychometric tests!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I fully respect and honour tradition, legacy and the wisdom of time-tested methods, as long as they remain relevant and adaptive to new circumstances.  “Survival of the fittest” was an idea founded in successful adaptation to changing environments rather than change for the sake of it. A successfully adaptive organism may remain unchanged for many years provided the environment remains the same.

In the same discussion, the other panelists offered equally insightful perspectives on shifting (or staying true to) career focus… check here for a summary of the key takeaways…

Uniquely, exquisitely you…

I’m so energised and inspired by the many bloggers and authors who are calling on us to find our niche, revel in our strengths and bring our unique self to the world. Whether your favourite flavour is Hugh MacLeod, Pam Slim, Seth Godin or any number of others worthy of honourable mention, there’s a lot to be said for knowing what makes you uniquely and exquisitely you and then working hard to keep original. I agree with them that passion, energy and commitment is very alluring and contagious.

Whether you are focused on yourself as an individual, or how you define the special difference that your business brings to the world, understanding what others gain from meeting and knowing you is essential to branding yourself.

  • What do people/organisations gain from interacting with you? How do you aid their world?
  • What did you bring to the table today that might otherwise not have happened had you not been there?
  • Did you enable them to do something quicker, smoother, more effectively, cheaper than they might have otherwise done on their own?
  • Did you spark a new idea? Create something? Help move something forward? Alleviate the pressure from someone else?
  • What change in the world did you enable (big or small, noticed or not) that would not have been possible were it not for your contribution.
  • Did you leave the people you met today better for having spent time with you?

I hope I did.

Have a fantastic Canada Day everyone!

View from in here…

I recently acquired a great quote from Career Strategist Mark Venning at Change Rangers “Don’t let anyone rent space in your brain for free”…

I love the quote, and it certainly helps place a value on your knowledge and creative energy. This is especially critical for those of us who are seeking income for the value we provide! However, it also got me thinking. What if you could find a way to give a virtual tour to “The view from in here…” . I know from speaking to people that how I view the world and the connections I make between seemingly disconnected ideas to create new direction can (and does) inspire others to do the same.  And I get juiced by hearing back their thoughts and building on things together. Eventually I hope that the mutual exchange leads to something which improves both our worlds. I certainly don’t want to rent space in my brain for free, and once an idea is out there and flying free its hard to ask for a refund!!!! But it does also speak to Mitch Joel’s recent post about networking and the need for it to be a two way exchange.

I think people buy you, your ideas, values and the way you interact with the world way before they buy your work. I want to make sure people can get a taste of the way I think and connect before they buy. Perhaps thats why I blog, Twitter and engage in all forms of social networking (real world and digital). Just as I enjoy having offline conversations that are a mutual exchange of ideas, challenges and discovery, so I hope the online community will respond and add to the dialogue.

Join me – and likewise, share with me a little of the view from over there if you will.