"Be yourself, everyone else is already taken..."
This is a favorite quote (and book title by Mike Robbins) I have heard frequently in 2011 at one of the networking groups I belong to, quoted by our moderator at the start of most of our meetings. While I have always had a personal philosophy loosely organized along those lines, this quote sums it all up very neatly and reflects where I intend to dedicate more time and effort to in 2012.
But as an independent consultant, that also implies for me the need to apply this thinking to my professional life as well, with my business brand being a direct reflection of me. But what does that mean for me personally in terms of action items? For me personally, here is what I will focus on for 2012:
1. Honesty - as a consultant, this is often difficult. But if you think of it not just as a way to work with clients, but as a way to select them in the first place, it is easier to see this as a core value. For me, this means a few things:
- Turn away clients who have issues you can not solve if 1) you lack the skills or experience; 2) the issue has no solution that you can envision or 3) the client is not a good fit for you (which could range from personal issues to payment history problems). But don't forget to tell them why and always offer a referral to someone else who might have a better chance to help out.
- Be diplomatic, but lay off the varnish - of course one should always find the nice way to say things, but don't feel a need to varnish the truth with your clients. If I am going to be worth the fees I am charging, I have to remind myself that my biggest value to my client might often be I will be the ONLY one in their org who is being honest with them. As a consultant, while we often believe we are the creating the solution, we very often find that we are often only showing it to them - it had been there all along but no one was willing to speak up out of fear.
- Less waste, more trust - if there is one benefit to honesty that is rarely discussed - it is its value as an efficiency driver. Being direct an honest will show up in everything you do with your client: everything from quicker, more effective meetings to shorter, less-complex Powerpoint slides. And with every engagement, your stature as a "Trusted Advisor" should grow simply by the way you have chosen to work.
2. Humor - one thing I learned in years of corporate employment is that there are large numbers of people who consider humor to be a threat to the success of the business. As someone who see humor in almost anything, this was tough to manage. And for a while, I almost let "them" convince me they were right. Fortunately, I think I have a "humor gene" somewhere that kept bringing me back to my senses and reminded me again and again about who I am. Unfortunately, the gene also attracted the ire of the overly-serious people with very "serious" missions. It often seemed however, that they were quite happy even if the mission failed, as long as everyone involved went about the failure with the right level of seriousness and gravity. For me, humor is a way to communicate, to bring insight, to bridge gaps and to be creative. So expect more of that in 2012. For more ideas on ways to apply humor to business, check out this great read from Michael Hess titled: "Your work may be serious, but your business doesn't have to be"
3. Follow Your Instincts - I know some will say that there are a few folks who should never do this, and some others have written recently that you should never trust your gut (this from HBR, and another from Fortune), but my gut tells me they are wrong. When I left my first job in Japan, one of my clients from LL Bean was very gracious about losing my services and took me out to dinner. When I confessed to some concerns about some new challenges at the new job he said "Just trust your instincts, you'll do fine". For the most part I took that advice to heart, but in hindsight, every big career mistake I ever made seemed to be connected to situations where I ignored that advice. While I won't dive headlong into the "intuition only" category (SOME analysis helps for truly complex things!), this is more about "don't over-analyze" than it is about consulting a Ouija Board. And besides, I may have a bit of science backing me up here too: Science Daily
4. Think "Big" - the last, but most important one. This one is a matter of habit. When things get tough, it is easy to start to micro-manage and get overly focused on the small things within arm's length. But that is a death spiral for businesses, small and big. This year it is time to remember that our connected world means clients can be anywhere, clients can be big or small, clients have all kinds of needs you can solve. I will be looking out for BIG challenges on a global level, and not limiting myself by chasing after solving small challenges. Remember, it does not exclude small clients, but rather it does mean we owe it to them to "Think Big" for them as well!
How will you evolve your business and your Brand in 2012? Tell me what you expect to do differently in 2012 that will make a difference or share something that others could benefit from...