Qualifying Leads Quickly and Passionately

How can you get to the heart of the matter quickly and thoroughly when facing a great design opportunity? I wrote about lead qualification for design firms here not too long ago and here I expand the list of questions that are often helpful to bring up — the earlier the better.

1. Is this a transformational opportunity for the client?

2. Is this a transformational opportunity for our firm?

3. Do we have an advocate inside the client organization?

4. Will our portfolio resonate with the client? Which projects, specifically?

5. Can we meet the basic requirements of the RFP, such as the right number of built projects in a certain sector?

6. Do we have the right internal team to bring to the interview? (It’s wise to think thoroughly about roles and responsibilities from the client standpoint early on.)

7. Are the right subconsultants available?

8. Do we have a unique approach or other differentiator given the likely competition?

9. Is there enough lead time to get the proposal done?

10. What would you add to this list?

Charm, or You Had Me at Hello

I received a few questions after a talk last week. Any excuse to work charm into an answer is very welcome.

Q: So many times I have been in interviews where my teammates seem to feel that they need to present their level of related knowledge, rather than make the effort to connect the dots. 

A: A facilitator – such as a marketing expert or the CEO/President – is in the best position to gently move people away from displaying knowledge and toward the promised land of making three compelling points that are properly supported. This in turn comes from our understanding of the client, the project, and the competition, which requires research beforehand.

Q: How to get around this expectation of the interviewers to see “THE” solution in 30 minutes from people they’ve never spoken to before. What is wrong with these people and how can we get around that barrier in the first three minutes?

A: This is where charm comes in. Often a way to ease your way into their hearts is to make sure you understand the problem correctly. Literally: “We would like to start by reframing the problem you’re having here at XYZ campus. It’s entirely possible that things have changed or that we don’t have the complete picture, so with your permission [this is key, you want to get them nodding along], let’s review the acute facilities situation at XYZ campus.”

Doubling Down on Insults

Humor is well-known to be a great asset in work and life. But what if you have to deal with a person who dishes out a lot of criticism and it just doesn’t seem funny? Try taking the criticism and doubling down. The term comes from blackjack and means risking two cards to get a big win.

A woman I knew was arguing a lot with her brother after their family went through a difficult time. The two fought bitterly, taking turns rearing up with vicious jabs or backhanded insults. With intentional practice and mental grit, she learned how to defuse these fights consistently. Now when he launches an insult or a remark she finds offensive, she pretends her job is to double the insult. So if he barks, “I am really worried about your ability to be focused!” she says, “I have got to be the most unfocused person I have ever met. One minute I am glued to a video game, the next I’m sorting silverware. I am so incredibly unfocused!” A round or two of this behavior, exaggerated a bit more each time, defuses the situation and soon brother and sister are laughing together. The big win is the dose of healing laughter that propels the relationship to the next level.

Managers, too, can hone this technique when dealing with difficult people. A perceived slight is often harmless and can even be used to advantage.


Don’t Shoot Your Gods

Lately I have been asked to describe my management style. I have a two-part belief system on this topic. First and foremost, roles and responsibilities are best clarified early and often. I have been known to blow up my own job description to very large type and place it at the front of the notebook I use every day. I use the job description as a compass: if a particular activity begins to feel too far afield or ill-aligned, I check it against this succinct list of big picture responsibilities. If the list itself needs updating, I simply bring it to my supervisor or partners at an appropriate time and we revise it together. Likewise, it is critical to review roles and responsibilities of those I supervise. Grievances can often be resolved through simple role clarification. The RACI matrix (Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed) is extremely helpful for project management of all kinds.

At the same time, every community has a god or goddess whose style is thoroughly unique and whose personality lends magic to the organization. We must listen, adapt, and nurture as well as we can while getting through our work. One of the schools I attended has a famous story about a new administrator who tried unsuccessfully to discharge an octogenarian teacher who had influenced generations of students. That’s when I heard the phrase from someone much wiser than me, “Don’t shoot your gods.”

7 Lessons Learned Managing People

  1. People management takes time. Occasional team meetings have to be scheduled into the calendar. Regular or irregular, take your pick.
  2. Subordinates may not be adept at expressing what they want in a direct manner so the manager has to take the time to pull it out of them.
  3. Natural leaders emerge from surprising places so the manager should ask peers to review one another and disclose the most valuable players. The manager cannot always see what others see.
  4. All people hate to be micromanaged.
  5. Micromanagement is a form of exercising control. Some managers may crave control when they sense that subordinates are withholding information.
  6. “Getting back to work” seems like a strategy but it only delays the reckoning.
  7. The more effective strategy is to take the time to have team meetings. If the staff are quite junior, it must be explained to them at such meetings how critical it is that they share information. A manager cannot act if she is not fully informed.

Doctors Without Borders

During the 2012 holiday season, my family and I chose to give a substantial donation to Doctors without Borders in recognition of our employers and clients. The non-national, non-political approach of this group appeals to us and the people we work with very much. I first saw Doctors Without Borders (typically known by their French name, Médecins Sans Frontières) when working in El Salvador in the mid-1990s. They were a constant presence in that war-torn country. I spent the past year working for a firm that is dedicated to the design and architecture of hospitals, clinics, and academic medical centers. So many Doctors Without Borders staff members work without such luxuries.


Six More Gifts (and Back to Work)

January second is a bittersweet date. To rest and restore are critical, yet there is a dreary aspect of holiday time, too. It can be exciting to get back to work. Our son keeps asking, “Where is Santa?” while we keep explaining, “Back to the workshop for him, 350-odd days to go til his next deliverable.” Here are six gifts to take to your desk. Here’s hoping your deliverables progress along nicely.

1. Carryover of your charitable giving in 2012.

2. The analogy of the glass ceiling as relates to women gaining leadership positions is well-known. Let’s try another metaphor: the crust that forms at the top of certain companies, making it nearly impossible for Generation X-ers to help reinvent their fields, even with 20 years of experience behind them. In 2013, let’s nibble right through that crust!

3. Something new to nurture. I had two bonsai trees when I lived in Central America for two years. Every single day I took them outside for their daily sun and water.

4. From the fashion files, a new phone case. Make it seasonal.

5. A late winter or early spring getaway. In Boston, March is the month to avoid, due to street mess: oh, sludge!

6. Permission to hack off that low-performing 10 or 15% of your business. Growth through pruning.

Happy New Year!

Twelve Days of Christmas, Six Gifts at a Time

We will take a winter break, roughly parallel to the twelve days of Christmas. (Posting will be light.) Here are six gifts for colleagues and friends, none of which is a partridge:

1. Appreciation for that 80% of your personality that gets things done and is completely successful.

2. A gentle word or two for the 20% that is less effective and powerful.

3. Something luxurious, whether a massage or a box of Bellocq tea. (I’m eyeing the $25 sampler pack.)

4. The ability to laugh at yourself. Is your office a mess? Hang up a sign that melds together ‘chaos’ and ‘order’ in humorous typography.

5. A commitment to listen closely to someone you work with who is upset. The power of the listening ear cannot be overstated in business.

6. A good biography and time to read. (Try Tina Fey’s Bossypants if you haven’t read it already. I’m opting for Grace: A Memoir, about Grace Coddington of Vogue.)

Six more, coming soon.