Three ways to start making simple sense

 

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We all want to make a good impression – so why can we end up achieving the exact opposite?

For example, I get to watch a lot of business presentations by professional people.  Good, knowledgeable folk who clearly want to show they can be of use to their clients, customers, or colleagues.  But they don’t.  Why?  because they forget the very simple things that help us start making sense to others.  Here are three ways that the good ‘uns do it.

Stop doing “big content”  ‘Big data’ might be a topically-thrilling concept in some IT-related circles..but not here. I have watched many lawyers who love to use big content – for example, the finer points of legal employment cases. Many tens of Powerpoint slides giving the blow-by-blow of it all.  “Look how much I know!” they seem to be saying. Meanwhile the audience slowly sags visibly under the weight of it all – usually before five minutes are up.

Think about them not you  Building on this first point, people are simple organisms when it comes to making sense to them.  Often, they just want to hear three basic things:

  • What is the point or essence that I need to know?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • As a result, what should I do and how?

The rest is dangerously large amounts of fluff that will clog up everyone’s neural pathways if we don’t keep their needs in mind.

Tell your stories  Quite a lot of professionals also struggle with a question they feel they must answer: “How do I sell me and/or the firm?”.  This can make them feel very uncomfortable – after all they are rarely specialist sales people who, it is assumed, should know this sort of thing.

But the solution is again simple and does not require specialist knowledge: “Don’t”.  Just show them how you have helped others to achieve or solve things – tell your stories.  They will do a far better job of marketing you than a million glossy brochures and websites or bucket loads of self-promoting blather.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three more plan tips

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There are indeed a lot of cunning planners out there.  So for you, and having written or reviewed a lot of these docs (the good, bad and the ugly), here are three more guide points to help make them work to the max.  This is important.  Well-written ones get read and have a far better chance of being acted upon.  Bad and ugly ones get condemned to the (digital) closet.

SWOTs that (again)?  Last time, I looked at how distilling key issues from SWOT content is crucial (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).  But what if the content itself is less than perfect, ambiguous, or even confusing?  Ever read one in which the same issue or factor appears more than once e.g. it is both a Strength and i) a Weakness or even ii) an Opportunity?

For i), you must make a judgement call – decide which it is on the weight of evidence and impact and stick with it.  In ii), the most frequent reason for such a mix-up is unclear understanding of the differences between SW and OT.  SWs are intrinsic issues that fall largely under your or the firm’s control or ability to influence; OTs are extrinsic issues largely beyond your control/influence.

SFA your options   Once the plan has generated a number of real strategic options, choosing which is best to pursue becomes critical. The one that seems to deliver most financial ‘bang’? Or that you are personally most vested in? Here, the three classic strategic SFA option criteria* and appropriate analysis tools for them need to be used:

  • Suitability (would it work?): whether a strategy addresses the key issues identified in the plan
  • Feasibility (can it be made to work?): whether the resources required to implement the strategy successfully can be made available, developed or obtained.  These include funding, people, time and information.
  • Acceptability (will they work it?): whether the expectations of the various stakeholders will be met so that they buy in and better ensure success.

Monitor, review and update  I have jested about plans never seeing the light of day because they are too long.  But even if they are OK as a ‘product’, they can still not be used once formal acceptance has occurred: so into the dark recesses of the cupboard they also go.  This tends to occur in organisations where there is no real buy-in to the need for planning and thus no real importance attaches to its achievement.  It is just a “paper exercise”.

Good firms ensure such importance by adopting the maxim: “what gets measured and rewarded gets done”.  Performance against plan is tracked and monitored rigorously by senior management; partners and teams are held directly accountable for what happens (or does not happen) and what is (not) achieved.  As a result, funnily enough, plans tend to get reviewed and updated regularly by their originators and users.

* ‘Exploring Strategy: Text & Cases’ (2013) Johnson, Whittington & Scholes

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

 

Three tips to help your plans work

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It seems that everybody is doing it now: from big ol’ firm, departmental or sector business plans all the way to personal business development ones.  More or less formal planning has become popular with professionals.

But, as the saying goes, popularity does not equal success.

Getting your plan right – by avoiding the major pitfalls – can make all the difference between achievement and under-performance.  From experience, here are three things that can help.

Beware the missing – or illusion of – choice.   Having analysed thoroughly, a good plan needs to properly assess more than one way to achieve its aims.  Many do not.

Either such options are absent altogether – having started from a desired end-point (“that is what I/we must do”) and worked backwards – or they are perfunctory inclusions to create the illusion of choice.  Almost inevitably, the result compromises the quality of what will happen because these end-point assumptions remain un-examined.

SWOTs that?  SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) are a staple of nearly every planning process.  They are meant to be the encapsulated result of all your hard-grafted digging and examining.

But there are a number of things that can lessen the value of doing them.  One being that the analysis presented is simply a long, not very useful listing of factors – and nothing else.  Effective SWOTs must also identify the (maximum six) key issues that your plan has to address. This sets up what follows clearly and purposefully.

Big is not beautiful – aka plans that are measured by the pound or kilo.  Much as though you may have enjoyed detailing and crafting your beautiful vision of what should happen, sadly, not everyone who has to read the multi-page tome that results will necessarily share your delight.

Of course, there has to be evidence for the chosen direction, but the essence of a good plan is something readable in no more than two pages…..presented at the beginning.  The rest is what appendices are for.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Billing psychology and the better meeting of minds

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One of the things that used to annoy a lot of clients was sloppy billing practice from their advisers – it still does.

To your average professional, billing is often the humdrum (and, in some branches, embarrassing) bit that follows the interesting bit – doing the work.  To the client, it is the ever-important bit, by which a significant part of their job performance is evaluated (i.e. the efficient management of budgets).

Such perceptual disjoin is at the heart of much of the problem.  Allowed to build up over time, annoyance can turn to something much more damaging to the relationship, so here are three quick, practical things for you or your professionals to keep the client bill-happy.

Don’t delegate!  We spend quite a lot of time encouraging senior perofessionals to delegate more of their work appropriately – for good leverage’s sake.  However, one of the rule-breaking exceptions can be when preparing and issuing bills.  Why?

Because getting a bill from someone you don’t know (and who therefore looks like they might not know your transaction) can be interpreted as rude and uncaring by the recipient.  Staying with a matter from start to finish and devoting a sensible amount of time to the bill yourself will mean fewer problems and a smoother client relationship.

Be a flexible friend  Do you always present bills in the firm’s ‘house style’?  If you do, you may be creating a source of additional effort and trouble for some clients as they have to unpick the firm’s data and re-present it internally in ways that their organisations can better understand.

The smart relationship managers recognise this issue and ask clients up-front how they would like their bills to be presented.  Even if it requires a bit more effort on our part, it’s well worth it for the goodwill that is generated….. as is ensuring that other parts of the firm do likewise if they also work for the client.

Avoid the ‘sausage factory’ look  There is an interesting aspect of billing psychology that is well worth remembering.  Bills that look like they have come off a production line can tend to invite more scrutiny – and thus the greater risk of write-offs or delayed payment – because some clients say that they mistrust such systematic treatment.

To overcome this, find simple ways to personalise the invoice – e.g. by adding manuscript amendments or a signed personal note – so that they know you are still involved and in control.

3 tips for more productive Christmas parties

Christmas parties are not a traditional hothouse of good networking.  Indeed, the accent can be much more on other things……like getting a bit “merry”; creating karaoke hell for other party-goers; falling asleep in the lift/elevator; or attempting to photocopy various hidden body parts for the embarrassing amusement of others in the months to come.

This is a pity because the sheer volume and concentration of partying at Noel offers much potential for those looking to make new contacts or refresh old ones. But there are some specific issues to address if we are to make the most of such gains. For those willing to give it a go, here are three pointers for capitalising on the merry mayhem of the season…that don’t stop you from enjoying the event.  They apply to most seasonal business celebrations – whether internal or external.

Be the early bird…. being fashionably late to the average Xmas ‘do’ doesn’t tend to work if you want to network.  For the obvious reason that latecomers will usually be faced with a wall of inebriation from people who will talk varying degrees of nonsense that they are unlikely to remember afterwards!  Get there within the first hour and work as hard as possible before you and the rest of the party hit the wall.

Get invited to other parties – one of the most persistent moans is how ‘unjoined up’ are the various departments of many organisations.  Clients often have complex needs that cross departmental boundaries and so which can remain unfulfilled, and opportunities to do more business with them are lost.  Seasoned operators make sure that they get invited to or attend as many other parties as possible in the firm (as well as their own), where getting to know colleagues within them will deliver most return. The same goes for celebrations in relevant external organisations – in particular, those of other providers, suppliers to the firm, clients/customers, and so on.

Have an aim (or two) – this is one of the biggest universal truths of doing business and so it applies here. If you are networking, set yourself a few specific aims and achieve them early.  Make sure that they are business-like and so very different to some of the usual festive ones (e.g. “meet at least two new contacts” rather than “sink as many tequila slammers as possible in the first 30 minutes”). That way something useful will be achieved…and you can then still enjoy the party.

Can you front up?

It’s the million pound question for anyone making a presentation. If you can, the impact on an audience, the creation of a positive impression and credibility engendered for you and your firm become palpable. And, of course, the opposite applies too unfortunately.

Having worked with and observed examples at both ends of this spectrum, there are some key things to get right. Here are three of the most crucial differentiators that will take you or your colleagues beyond the ordinary. Of course, there are more. If you want to know about them too, email me at eureka@peoplescope.com and I’ll send you more ‘Fronting Up’ ideas.

Big IS beautiful

This is the ‘eureka’ realisation for some aspiring (and indeed ‘experienced’) presenters. A presentation is NOT a conversation; the rules of engagement for making one are very different. Yet many treat them as the same…and wonder why their audiences are underwhelmed.

As a piece of public, 100% one way communication, the onus is on the presenter to generate ALL the energy in the room. This means that you have to be much BIGGER than in the more intimate, two-way energised process of a dialogue. Bigger means using your voice, content and body to generate interest. To “be a bit more shouty” as one of our workshop participants amusingly put it. She didn’t mean actually shouting, but (for her) projecting her voice in a way that would make the greater impact required. Using hands and arms to create movement and animation. It’s a different mode of operation which needs to be recognised, learned and practised.

Metaphorically speaking

Facts are good, but on their own they are not the whole nine yards for the best presentations. Metaphors are underused pieces of rhetoric that yoke a powerful image directly to your content/message, enhancing the impact of that message. So Tony Blair could have said: “Education is vital to Britain’s success in the future” or as he did say….

“Education, education, education – then and now, the key to the door of Britain’s future success

Whether you like politicians or not, they are skilled in the art of making presentations that engage with their audience. Using metaphors and other devices – there are two more being used in this one sentence – that make powerful connections with all our senses. It works. Use them.

Tell your stories (and make them interesting)

In a lot of business presentations, evidence of action or use is an important component in bringing to life the service you offer. What a shame then that some presenters do not do full justice to this. The nearest they get is: “We do this type of work for companies like A, B, and C “. Not much life in that, is there?

In this context, fronting up consists of telling stories that really engage your audience in what happened. Describing the challenges faced by your client and how you and the firm helped overcome them, and the benefits that they received as a result. That way you will stand out.