I’ve seen many different approaches to this challenge from CEOs, Chairmen and Chairwomen and all levels of managers and professionals. A common approach in those that are seen as driven and successful people, is a confident, assertive and in some cases an aggressive approach. There are many business people who are revered for their sharp words and uncompromising attitudes. Just think of Sir Alan Sugar in The Apprentice and the famed “interview from hell”. It’s much easier to think of successful people who shout and demand than those that command influence in other ways - but why is that?
Now in the interests of full disclosure here, I have had my moments of ‘extreme focus’ myself where I might have left little of my needs to guesswork, but they’re relatively few and few between (at least in my own mind).
On my mind today is one of the approaches that can often be underused, and is one of the simplest - a smile and good manners. Looking someone in the eye, smiling and saying please and thank you and genuinely meaning it is actually a tremendously effective way of getting someone onside - it’s amazing what someone will do for someone who treats them well and is nice to them.
What sort of person do you want to be?
I’ve been in the business of Client Services for almost all of my life, running a design and marketing agency for 7 years then Asperity Employee Benefits for the next 6. Many of my personal friends, including my partner, also run businesses that have similar types of client service at their heart, in industries as diverse as fashion, IT and TV. So I often end up reflecting on what sort of client I want to be to the service providers that we use and I decided a long time ago that we would be everyone’s nicest client.
There are two extremes in getting what you want aren’t there? You can be the ball-breaker, never happy, let nothing go dragon like that woman in the Devil Wears Prada movie, you know the one who is never happy with anything that her PA does. Or you can be the one that every supplier loves - clear, honest, straightforward and nice. One makes demands and sets high expectations, the other asks for favours, says please and thank you a lot but can still ask for the earth.
So which one of these are you? Whether you’re thinking about internal suppliers, external suppliers, staff or colleagues, how do you get what you want? And why? - is it a product of testing that you’ve decided which one is the most productive for you? Or is it a product of experience - people have treated you one way and you mirror that to others?
Being nice doesn’t make you any less focussed.
Being nice, decent and good to people doesn’t mean being a pushover or easy. A video and animation production agency we use has recently done two “all-nighters” to deliver things that we needed in a hurry. Both they and we know the reason we were in a hurry was that we didn’t think to commission the project early enough (almost always the reason for rush projects from clients). We’d had the ideas, procrastinated, got involved in something else and then remembered that time had moved on. But because we have a strong, equal relationship with them built on mutual respect we didn’t have to lean or be demanding to get them to pull out all of the stops to deliver for us, they naturally wanted to do do it, they wanted to please us because we’re a good client and we treat them properly. Isn’t that a better way of working that the aggressive demanding “ball-breaker” approach that we can all think of examples of?
Business doesn’t need to be adversarial to be successful. You can treat people with respect and decency and still deliver as an ultra high-performance company. In fact, to be a genuine high performer I think you get much further by being as good and decent as you can be with everyone else.
Business behaviour is business brand - isn’t it?
One of the things I train all Asperity staff in at our culture and values induction is that they are our brand and the way they choose to deal with people in business sets our brand every day. I still do every staff induction, worldwide - that means at least once a fortnight and with video versions for when I’m in the wrong country and I think setting the tone for business is one of the most important things that a CEO can do.
Asperity people are driven, focused, goal-oriented and want to win. We provide the best employee benefits programme in then world, so it’s natural and right that we want to deliver it to as many people as possible. But despite being goal-focused, results-orientated and target-obsessed, we’re not mean, ill-mannered, deceptive or rude - we don’t need to be. Asperity staff never lie, cheat, deceive or pull the wool over anyone’s eyes because I think, in business and in life, that what goes around comes around. I think largely that you reap what you sow and if you want to reap great rewards you need to set a high standard in all aspects of your corporate behaviour. And a very big part of that in my book is being as nice as you can to people, as much as your can.
The North Wind and The Sun
Thinking about this today reminded me of a story my Dad used to tell me when I was a boy. I remember it as “The story about the wind and the sun” and it was many years later that I learned it was one of Aesop’s fables (this one if you want to read it properly). Anyway, here it is as I remember it from my Dad.
“One day, the Wind and the Sun were talking and both got into a conversation about who was the strongest. The Wind, bossy as always, was certain that he was the strongest, whilst the Sun, beaming and radiant was confident that she was the strongest.
Look here, said the Wind, I’ll prove it to you. You see that man down there, with the raincoat and the hat? I’ll show you how strong I am by blowing his coat right off him.
Ok said the Sun, let’s see.
So the Wind took aim and he huffed and he puffed and he heaved and he blew and he send wind down with all of his might. But with every gale and bluster from the Wind the main just pulled his raincoat even tighter. By the end the main was wrapped more tightly that the Wind ever thought he could be, despite the Wind’s hard efforts.
It’s no good, it’s impossible, said the Wind. It can’t be done, he sulked.
Ok, I’ll have a go, said the Sun.
And the Sun put his best smile on and beamed his smile across the heavens, He beamed and smiled and shone just as much as he could. And as he did, the Man looked up, smiled and took his raincoat straight off.”
So have a think about who you’re going to be today and what could be most effective for whatever you have to do - being the Wind or being the Sun.
P.S. For the record, the agency that pulled out all the stops for us in the story above, were our wonderful friends at video production agency Dreaming Fish (Twitter @DreamingFish and @designbygreg).