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Ask and you shall receive

September 30th, 2012

The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace, “We don’t love people so much for the good they have done for us, as for the good we do for them.” This observation is particularly relevant to recent conversations I’ve been having with some of our Insider Members about conducting Client Advisory Boards and Meetings with Bankers.

It’s important when inviting your clients to participate in a CAB to position the invitation as a request for their help to enable you to improve the quality of your client service or to discuss some changes you’re planning to make to your strategic direction.  You’ll be amazed what a difference that has on their willingness to participate. Simply by opening your invitation letter with a sentence like “I’m writing to ask for your help.” is really all you need do and the rest will take care of itself. Why? People are hard-wired to be willing to help people even those they do not know.

Similarly, one of the initiatives we implemented when I was in practice was to invite Bank Managers and their Senior Lending Officers to a half day conference to discuss matters of “mutual interest and concern relating to our respective clients.”

Our goals for this meeting, that we scheduled every other year, were:

First, to show them some of the tools we used to assist clients improve their profitability and business value (sound familiar?) based on a couple of case studies and relating this back to how this inevitably means the bank benefits from a profitable, growth orientated client.  Bankers realize, as we all do, that long term relationships with growing businesses are highly profitable and mutually beneficial.

Second, we wanted to get a better understanding of the issues the banks were facing in dealing with their clients (who all come from the same population of people we serve.) We started doing this way before Covey published his 7 Habits but you’ll immediately see that this initiative was the application of his 5th Habit – “seek first to understand then be understood.” Not only did this give us a better understanding of how to advise our clients on the best way to approach and work with their banker, it is an enormously powerful way of empathizing with another person (the bankers) which in turn is a major trust builder.  If you want referrals from spheres of influence like local bankers you must first win their trust and respect.  This is proved to be a great way to do that.

And on another level, if you want to win the trust and respect of your team members you might start by asking them for help in creating a better firm – and not by asking them to work harder! When we involved our team members in the development of our strategic plan and its implementation they jumped on board and embraced it with open arms.  It was a key to the success of our firm.  You will be surprised how powerful that can be.

Vinett Nayar in his great book Employees First, Customers Second did that in the process of turning around HCL Technologies. Among many other things he created a section on a U&I portal called My Problems on which he posed questions about challenges he was trying to deal with as the CEO and he invited team members to wade in with suggestions.

One of the unexpected outcomes of this idea was that it started to shift responsibility for change actions away from the CEO to other people in the organization.  We found that worked in our own firm – give people information, give them scope to express their views and contribute to the dialog and they will take responsibility for implementing positive change.  Nayar’s book is certainly worth reading if you’re interested in how to get greater engagement from your team.

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