Business tales from the festive fireside


Instead of sending Christmas cards (or offering  a sanctimonious declaration of charity to which card money has been despatched), here are some  business anecdotes culled from the canon of ‘happenings’  experienced or heard about that may bring a Yuletide smile.  No names, no pack drill so the guilty or unfortunate remain warmly protected under the trench coat of anonymity.

I am a TIGER (grrr)!  Fans of comedian Steve Coogan – and, in particular, his 90s “Dearth of a Salesman” persona Gareth Cheeseman – will especially appreciate this one.  As preparation for a beauty parade, a group of ‘pitchers’ were asked to think of a personal mantra to say to themselves before they went in, to help them focus and calm their nerves.  Allegedly, for the next few days, staff at the firm could hear “I am the dog’s bollocks!” booming from the bowels of one participant’s office.  Another decided to try out different mantras on the cows at a farm and let them decide the best one (a moo-ving experience for the livestock, no doubt, ho ho ).

Professional sensitivity rules (not)!  In a negotiation training scenario, participants were presented with a disgruntled client who had been badly treated by the firm.  Time for a bit of judicious bowing and scraping and then sorting out the problem to save our bacon, you might think?  Not a bit of it.  One sensitive soul decided to give the client the full-on arrogant treatment – time to “play hardball”, as he put it.  “It’s not our fault…of course these things do happen from time to time…it would appear that you are largely to blame Mr Client” etc. etc. then followed, and not even the whiff of an apology.   Just the sound of a fictional client walking out the door.  Let’s hope as a result that he won’t try this on his real clients.

Conflict …what conflict?  Back in the really good old days of prosperity and deal mania, client conflicts of interest were quite a big thing.  And now they might almost be back in fashion.

Faced with one, good professionals communicate clearly and honestly with the client.  Bad ones don’t.  Like the firm promising absolutely that there was “no question” of a conflict if they acted for the potential client.   Sad for them then that the client got to know about a direct and clearly conflictual relationship the firm already had – by reading about it in the professional trade press!  Telling porkies just doesn’t work.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.

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.