FILL YOUR STANDS: A Manual for Effective Networking
By Bill Lynch
Copyright 2011 by Comsel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
WINNING, FAIRLY, SQUARLY, WITHIN THE RULES
I am a fan of the late Vince Lombardi, who, after declaring that winning was the only thing, added something like: fairly, squarely, within the rules. Lombardi believed it was very important to win. To him, winning always meant the other guy lost. He lost because he was not as dedicated to the fundamentals of the game. He had not practiced until the activities of the enterprise were second nature. He had not conditioned himself to compete tirelessly until the final whistle.
Lombardi also knew that a victory won by deception, by unfair advantage, outside the rules of the contest was not worth winning. It would be hollow at best.
Dave DeBusschere, a New York Knicks superstar, once said that while you are sleeping, someone else is practicing. He knew that when you play you might lose because that other player has spent more hours perfecting his craft than you have. Like Lombardi, DeBusschere knew what it took to win.
Being in business is similar. If you are to be successful, others will likely fail. You would never want their failure to be the result of something illegal or dishonest that you did. They will fail because they lack an understanding of what it takes to win. They have a bad strategy. They execute poorly. They don’t work hard. Most often, they give up and quit before the game is over. Be sure you come to play. Come to excel at the fundamentals. Come to be successful.
Your goal should be to always be among the winners because you work hard and compete passionately, fairly, squarely and within the rules.
Conventional wisdom: “It would be nice to do the right thing, but this is business. That morality stuff works at church and maybe at home, but you can’t bring it to work. Profit and shareholder wealth rule business.”
When I heard that in my career, it made me twinge. When my boss said it, double twinge. If you have felt this way, know you are not alone. And yes, I have done things to keep a job that I really wished I had not done.
When I was just starting in business. I was shipped to a time management course. I don’t remember who sponsored or taught it, but I still remember the core premise:
How you spend your time reflects not only your goals but also your values. Keep your activities within the playing field defined by your values, and you will be happy and successful. Stray from your values and you will be miserable, no matter how much money you make.
When I became a CEO, our business plans began with the core values of the corporation. These included statements like:
1. We value the worth and dignity of every individual.
2. We value integrity in all of our relationships with suppliers, employees and customers.
3. We value operating from a moral-centered core.
You get the idea.
The board of directors found these out of place and hard to comprehend. One director, who was fond of quoting Warren Buffett, agreed to keep our value statements in the plan but made it clear we had better focus on shareholder value at any cost. Another, a Stanford MBA, suggested that the statement “We value cash flow” made more sense to him. (Pretty typically what is wrong with us MBAs, I think.)
Now realize that a lot of lip service is paid to values in organizations. I doubt the value statements in the Enron business plan said, “We value fooling everyone while we rack up big bonuses and stock profits.” Actually, one of Enron’s values, as reported in The New York Times, was: “We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.” And: “We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.” Sadly, ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance defined the senior management team. Value statements are useless unless they are incorporated every day into the way business is done.
THE ROLE OF INTEGRITY
Conventional wisdom: A lie is as good as the truth if the customer buys it. Our loyalty is to shareholder wealth, nothing else.
You should have only one customer-satisfaction policy: The customer is always right. If the customer is not happy, fix it. If you can’t fix it, don’t expect to be paid for it.
A recent case: The COO of a new customer of ours ordered eight sets of business cards for senior staff. After we printed and delivered them, the CEO saw them for the first time. She hated the design, so we agreed to remake the cards at our cost. We delivered exact samples of a new design on the new stock she wanted and had both executives approve them. When we delivered the new cards, they didn’t think the stock was what they had approved. “This stuff is thin as toilet paper,” the CEO complained. Our salesperson was in tears. Despite the fact that the approved samples and the delivered cards were the exact same thickness (as measured by a digital micrometer), we picked them up and credited back the invoice. The COO yelled that they would never use us again. Thank God.
Integrity goes beyond being honest. It goes to standing behind every aspect of the work of your business, a fact that will not go unnoticed by your customers and employees.
Be passionate about doing things well. Be passionate about doing the right things. Don’t listen to those who would tell you that the way to success is to wring every nickel twice to increase shareholder value at the expense of your integrity, your values and your moral center.
PUTTING YOURSELF LAST
Putting yourself last is a great strategy for success – if you define success as being extraordinarily happy with your lot in life. It is not a strategy for everyone. It requires the ability to see beyond the immediate and instead aim for what is best in the long run.
In the book Firms of Endearment, the authors support the notion that share of heart leads to share of wallet. They prove this with empirical studies of 16 companies that practice putting the interests of shareholders after the interests of their customers and employees. These companies are consistently among the best to work for as judged by employees and outside observers. They outperform the S&P 500 both short and long term. They outperform the firms chronicled in Good to Great. You will recognize the companies. Among them are Costco, Trader Joe’s, The Container Store, Southwest Airlines and Patagonia.
Your company can have similar results with this philosophy. A caveat: A bad business model, a bad product, poor execution – these cannot be corrected by being a caring business. Your fundamentals must be solid, too.
So what does this have to do with networking? The same commitment to values that leads these companies to success is at the heart of being a successful networker.
The key to successful networking is to ask about everyone you meet: “What does this person want and how can I help him or her get it?” And just like the Costcos and The Container Stores, successful networkers must be competent and cost effective in delivering their goods and services.
During my first year in business I understood that cold calling was going to be critical to my success. I made 1600 in person physical cold calls on other businesses during my first year. I highly recommend that you make cold calls a part of your normal routine. “Hi, I’m Bill and I own the local Minuteman Press. I was in the neighborhood and thought you might like a couple of free scratch pads. Do you all print much?” No matter the answer I followed up “Since I’m here, could I get something that you have printed so that I can give you a free quote? If my price is good, you can either decide to buy from me or take my price and lower the price you are paying your current printer. Either way, you win!
Cold calling may not be your idea of a great way to spend time, but it does work and I highly recommend it.
Action item: Make a list of the core values that you personally hold. These are the rules by which you want to play the games of life and business. Do you live by them every day in every situation? How can you get your life more in line with these absolutes?