Welcome to 2018. The start of a new year is a time for reflection, focus, determination, and goal-setting. If you are like more than 132 million Americans, you probably made a new year’s resolution or two. A study by the University of Scranton published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology states that 92% of people that set new year’s resolutions never achieve them. In fact, a recent study shows that by mid-February, more than 40% have given up.
Simply put, resolutions are goals. How do you improve your chances of being one of the 8%? I think we can learn from the work of Edwin A. Locke, an American psychologist, University of Maryland retired Professor of Motivation and Leadership, and pioneer in goal-setting theory said it simply: set goals that are specific and challenging.
Here are a few resolutions to help you lead your firm to its best year yet.
Nearly 80% of small to mid-sized businesses have no plan. An Excel spreadsheet with a list of activities is not a plan. Research by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, found that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Dr. Matthews’ study also found that if you share your goals and give progress reports, the likelihood of achievement increases significantly. Invest the time in developing a strategic plan that integrates all aspects of the firm.
Here’s How: Create a strategic plan that not only spells out a comprehensive direction for 2018, but also looks ahead two to five years. Read, Think Beyond Value, a newly published book by Dr. David Flint, that teaches the V-REEL framework for strategy formulation. If you can’t get started, seek outside help.
No matter the study, there is one characteristic that is consistent among great leaders. Great leaders are great listeners.
Here’s How: Schedule one listening meeting each week with a team member or members at all levels. Set a breakfast, lunch or other meeting with various team members. Give yourself one hour. Hone your listening skills by practicing these four simple tips as published in an article in Scientific American: 1) check your assumptions, 2) be curious, 3) don’t judge, and 4) reschedule when you aren’t focused. The easiest way to follow these guidelines is to ask questions. For example: What would you change about our firm? What’s our greatest strength as a firm? If you were managing partner (CEO) for a week, what would you change? What makes you excited about this profession? What’s the one thing we could be doing better? What should I do more? The objective is to hear new ideas and learn from their points of view.
The topic of culture has been poked and prodded for years. I’ve spoken on the topic of culture countless times. Yet, what’s the feature story in the January-February 2018 issue of Harvard Business Review? The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture. As explained in the article, strategy is the formal logic of an organization’s goals while culture is the expression of the goals through beliefs, assumptions, and norms. There’s more to culture than creating an enjoyable work environment. The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Study encourages leaders to expand their thinking about culture to the entire employee “journey.” That means embracing everything from the recruiting process and meaningful work, to communications, feedback, and work/life balance.
Here’s How: Initiate activities that nurture an employee journey supportive of the firm’s vision and goals. Expand your knowledge of what culture is and what it is not. Get a clear understanding of your firm’s current culture and map out the employee’s journey. (The HBR article includes a Cultural Profile Quiz.) Identify the cultural gaps as they relate to the organization’s vision and goals. Then, develop a strategy to move the employee’s journey in a direction that supports the organization’s purpose.
An inordinate amount of time can be spent on minutiae, clients that aren’t a good fit, and other activities that, quite frankly, do not matter. Work with your team to stay focused on what is most important. There is a time management demonstration that uses rocks, pebbles and sand. The rocks represent things that are critical, pebbles are important, and the sand represents all the other things that take our time.
Here’s How: Teach your team to stay laser focused on the most critical decisions and activities that will move your firm one step closer to the goal. That includes focusing on clients that are a good fit. The latest thinking in time management isn’t about time management at all. We live in a world of constant distraction. Shift training from time organization tips to distraction and attention management techniques. A study by researchers at Carlton University showed that people spend nearly 1/3 of their time on email and 30% of the email is neither important nor urgent. A simple technique: turn off the email notifications and check email at regularly scheduled times (research shows that 3 times per day is sufficient). Review your client base at least once a year and “graduate” clients that are no longer a good fit. Focus on better serving the clients that support the firm’s vision and where you can add the most value.
Your firm should have a formalized mentoring program. A program where members of your team, at all levels, have an individual who cares about them as an individual. Mentoring can take place one-to-one or in small groups, but it is important to make sure that everyone understands the objective. A mentorship program should focus on building the characteristics that support the vision of the firm. Programs centered around improving characteristics like empathy, sense of self, or managing stress will have better results than those focused solely on skill building.
Here’s How: Start a formalized mentorship program with objectives, format, and guidelines. (Formalized refers to a documented program, not a stuffy or rigid one). Hold your leadership team accountable – there’s no excuse for not having the time to develop the future leaders of your firm. Once you have a program in place, seek feedback for improvement (see Resolution #1). Then, encourage your leadership team to be champions for their mentees – actively promoting their learning, advancement, and opportunities within the firm.
Transparency is here to stay. Yes, we live in a world of emoticons and abbreviations. Though predictions are that artificial intelligence and machine learning will have a profound impact on entire industries, it’s important to remember that people buy. Professional service firms are centered around relationships and interpretations. We all know that there are many other firms that have the same expertise and produce good work. Time and again, clients choose one firm over another because of trust levels, communication, and relationship.
Here’s How: Focus on three things: 1) give the person your undivided attention, 2) be clear and specific, and 3) watch for nonverbal cues. One technique to improve clarity is to ask the individual to repeat back what they thought they heard you say and identify anything that’s missing. Did you set appropriate expectations? Give a specific deadline? Ask for interim updates? Pay attention to facial expressions, posture and eye contact. If the nonverbal cues aren’t aligning with the verbal, you probably aren’t communicating clearly. Take heed of your own nonverbal cues to be sure you aren’t sending mixed messages.
We are creatures of habit. We get stuck in routines that can turn into ruts. You’ve probably seen or studied the Diffusion of Innovation Curve (aka, Technology Adoption Curve) developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962. Are you an Innovator, Early Adopter, Early Majority, Late Majority, or Laggard? All too often, I have visited firms whose leaders and, subsequently, their firms are laggards. They are laggards not because they aren’t smart, are scared, or uninterested, but because they got stuck in a zone of familiarity. Then, life and competitors passed them by. A number of studies have proven that the rate of technology adoption is accelerating. For example, it took a little over 40 years for 50% of households to have a telephone (landline). In comparison, cellphones were in the hands of approximately 50% of the population in less than 10 years. Trying something new is more than just about technology. It’s about expanding your thinking and your perspective.
Here’s How: Learn a new skill, hobby, or language. Read something on a topic you’ve never explored. Take a cooking class. Go to BBQ University. Attend an art appreciation lecture. Listen to classical music or opera. Try a new app. Watch a TedTalk. Not familiar with Facebook or Instagram? Ask a young professional to teach you how it works. (Hint: This is often a technique used in mentoring to build rapport.) You can’t get stuck in a rut if you don’t sit still.
Live the brand. Live the attitude. Live the level of client service. If you want your team to excel, lead by example. If work/life balance is a large part of your firm’s brand, have a life outside the office.
Here’s How: Start by developing brand pillars – the core elements that define your firm. Then, define each in terms of action and every day activities. For example, if responsiveness is a pillar, define what responsiveness means in terms of communication, client service, team work, and other elements of the job. Great leaders set the example for everyone in their organization.
Clients experience your firm from many different perspectives – from first impressions whether in person or digital to the service delivered. Yes, clients buy knowledge, experience, and expertise, but they also buy security, trust, and caring. Security, trust, caring, and the other so-called ‘soft side’ of professional service firms is what actually sets firms apart and often influences decisions (good or bad). It is this culmination of experiences that is critical to success. Yet, few firms have given much thought to the entire client experience.
Here’s How: Map out every touchpoint from prospect through client service. Look at every touchpoint, communication, and interaction through the eyes of the client. Does every experience support what you say about your firm? Identify the gaps and find ways to make the client’s journey more comfortable, enjoyable, secure, and easy. For example, many firms overlook the client onboarding process. Do you have a formalized process for onboarding a client after they’ve signed the agreement? Use that process to find ways to adjust the working relationship to make it conducive to how they want to work. Here’s a hint: ask more questions about how they want things to work and about their expectations.
Being a leader means continuously living with intense pressure. The pressures that come with great responsibility for taking care of the firm, finances, growth, issues, the team, and clients. That outward focus often means that little time is spent taking care of themselves. They become totally devoted to the job and become workaholics. Continuous stress combined with poor eating habits, being overweight, and lack of sleep, can not only lead to health issues, but also poor decision making. Great leaders make time to take care of themselves.
Here’s How: Start by changing your diet. Eat healthy (lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and healthy grains). Drink more water. Exercise. Take care of yourself and you’ll have more energy to take care of all the other responsibilities.