Monday, February 9, 2015

Make It Personal. How to Find Inspiration You Love and Build On It

Brandon Rozelle, SVP, Growth Strategy
Innovation

You are probably like me. In the course of your busy week, cool articles or snippets of content fall into the orbit of your attention span. Maybe you make time for them in the moment (I envy you), or perhaps you flag them for a later time when you can really invest in topics of interest.

(For me, the latter covers 95% of what tempts me.) 

Regardless your approach, inevitably two or three disparate articles or ideas will fall into orbit and may collect to form a greater idea. Maybe it's a trend, maybe it is your unique pattern recognition… over time one spark will illuminate another, and sometimes that heavier gravity will spur you into writing a blog post about something that inspires you.

(I also needed a New Year's Resolution.  Two birds!)

A few years ago I came across a blog post titled "Why ROR is the new ROI in the digital space" and it lit a spark.  It led me to discover a very good book on the subject, Return On Relationship which some months later I found myself reading. Both of these focus fairly exclusively on the emergence of social media and build upon the idea that Social drives engagement--and if cultivated properly, engagement can be matured into increased sales. Social is unique in that it allows you to have a more intimate conversation with your customer because of the format and also because social media is that magical space where business and personal interactions are allowed to mix. So to say it another way… having a more intimate, plain-language dialog with your customers and interacting with them where the lines blur between the business and personal has been demonstrated to drive greater success for businesses.

But what really resonated with me was the notion that investing in people on a personal level (in the context of your business setting) leads to greater outcomes… and it became apparent to me that across all aspects of my life, this was something that I had done increasingly over the past 10 years. I didn't do this intentionally to make myself more successful--I got lucky and Forest Gumped my way into it--but I could measure the impact that investment had on my success.  So the notion of engaging personally actually held water for me at a more general level. And interestingly, the only aspect of the notion which gave me pause was perhaps an implication that you should do this to drive success. I say pause, because I may have found the notion distasteful to consider my personal focus on others having been led with the intention of some outcome. That's a no brainer for business literature--in fact you should be in business with the goal of success. I believe I was hesitant to even consider that I had allowed myself to be open, or generous, or kind with an intention behind it. Maybe I was in love with the notion that Hey, I can be good to people AND it makes me better at my job. Win Win. 

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Hubris aside, this idea on focusing to personally develop professional relationships led me to place that concept at the center of some training I was working on in late 2013 for Rightpoint's Project Management Office (PMO) around not the what we do to make projects have successful outcomes, but really how and why. Essentially defining how managing and leading are different, and how leadership, true Leadership has no ceiling over it. I argued that having a relationship with your team members… building trust, leading by example, and creating a platform where they feel safe gives them the opportunity to be creative and invested. That is usually a very good state to be in when your goal is to produce something awesome. The same is true with client relationships. They are in fact relationships, centered around and cultivated by actual breathing human beings. And so not surprisingly you're either building them or you're not. You're either investing in them or you're starving them. And like most relationships, how someone feels about you probably matters as much as what they think of you. In fact, the two are greatly intertwined. Maya Angelou said it best:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." 

With colleagues and clients just like family members and friends--relationships are like a bank account: You need to make deposits that build a balance over time. A day will come when you need to make a withdrawal, and overdrawing has consequences.

The tipping point for me actually committing this to the blogosphere was an article that I received from LinkedIn a few weeks back. Those guys produce some really great content, and this final spark collided with the others and came crashing down on the page here. The article, by Dr. Travis Bradberry, is titled Why You Need Emotional Intelligence To Succeed. As soon as you're done reading this, go read it (or flag it… whatever you do.) It is a fantastic article and he makes a compelling case. We actually talk about this quite a bit at Rightpoint as we look to evaluate candidates for positions here and as we consider the dynamics of our clients when we staff our team members.

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His true brilliance (IMHO) is how he markets it: Why You Need Emotional Intelligence To Succeed. See what he did there?  He positions empathy and communication and style awareness and all of those other things that you have to bring to bear on building relationships as essential to success--and we ALL want to succeed don't we? Boom. Marketing.

It is compelling to think about Emotional Intelligence (the core attribute) as a spectrum--like sense of smell or sense of direction.  If it is a spectrum then we all fall on it somewhere. If it is something we can cultivate and expand in ourselves (which Dr. Bradberry goes on to argue) then improving it is actionable.  And building on his argument--if it is actionable and essential to success, then you can't afford to ignore it. Not convinced? From his article, Dr. Bradberry cites:

"Of all the people we’ve studied at work, we've found that 90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence. On the flip side, just 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence. You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.

Naturally, people with a high degree of emotional intelligence make more money—an average of $29,000 more per year than people with a low degree of emotional intelligence. The link between emotional intelligence and earnings is so direct that every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary. These findings hold true for people in all industries, at all levels, in every region of the world."

Emotional Intelligence is the key attribute to being able to understand others, empathetically comprehend their needs and adjust your needs and style to accommodate them. Ergo in building great personal connections it is perhaps the most effective weapon.

I realize there are many people out there who work for organizations who have more formal corporate culture. My intention with this post isn't to encourage you to talk about the intimate details of your personal life with strangers at work (although that would be hilarious and you should totally go do that)--but rather to consider how your investment in team members, colleagues, clients, and even vendors might not benefit from building better relationships. I try to remind myself pretty often how fortunate I am to work somewhere with an amazing culture--where I can invest very personally in my work and where doing so not only makes me more successful but where I am also encouraged to do it.  The below slide is one we show every time we introduce ourselves to a new client. Do you connect the implication?

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We tell our clients up front that we're not here to just execute some work. We are here to blow your hair back with awesome. We're here to make you more successful and to be satisfied throughout. We aren't here for the short term, we're here to become worthy of solving your problems long term.  That, my friends, is a pledge about building relationships. Clearly stated… nothing up our sleeves. 

I'll leave it with you the same way I did with our PMO last year:

Do you need to go become best friends with each one of your team members? No. But I do invite you to consider how well you really know your team members or colleagues or clients. Do you know their aspirations? Their challenges? Do you know what is personally important to them or professionally? Paper or plastic? When they were 9, what did they aspire to be when they grew up? How did they find their way to the job they have now? 

Seek to answer some of these questions, and the actions that will drive you to close that gap will start you down a path that I think you'll enjoy. For me, it feels good to make work personal. I laugh a lot more than I used to, and I can speak from experience that a deeper level of personal accountability makes the sting of setbacks less painful and the sweetness of success so much deeper.