Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You Can't Overcome the Visual

I was helping a client company evaluate service firms. Two among the contending vendors stand out. The first was a distinguished man in a three-piece suit and a crisp white shirt. Another firm sent two men, each the head of his respective department. One wore a rumpled camel jacket; the second badly needed a haircut. Guess which firm got the business? Distinguished Guy.

The decision was based on his skill, success history and the interest Distinguished Guy displayed in the client's company. But the rumpled guys, despite a high recommendation from a respected professional, never had a chance. Here's why:

1. You can't overcome the visual. Always present yourself in your best light. The garb of one contender who came in shirtsleeves and leather pants telegraphed to the client, "I don't want this contract;" he didn't merit a second thought.

2. Don't assume. Rumpled Guys knew the client's company was plain as toast and had several others like it on their client list, but they assumed a more casual look would be okay. It wasn't. They're in a business that requires exquisite care, and their "Sunday brunch at the Holiday Inn" outfits didn't convey that.

3. Dress one level up when you're making a sales call, giving a speech or trying to impress a potential client or employer. You can dress AT the same level as those you'll call on, but make sure you look as clean and crisp as iceberg lettuce. You STILL have to look a bit sharper than those you'll meet.

4. Don't guess. If you're in doubt, call ahead. If business casual is the order of the day, your Armani suit may be as off-putting as the rumpled apparel was. You never lose points by doing research.

These two firms were among a half dozen who made presentations. Most representatives wore the appropriate haberdashery, though they lacked the Total Package the client was seeking. Distinguished Guy made the sale because the client believed in his competence and his brain; and felt "I will matter" to this firm. . .all of which was underscored in how DG presented himself to the selection committee.

You could argue about the superficiality of making a decision based on how someone dresses, that the client might have overlooked genius because of a three-piece suit. But this is business. You put on the costume of whatever game you signed up for. NOT to do so is to thumb your nose at the team you claim you want to join. Remember Leather Guy.

We are a society DRIVEN by the visual. Remember that if you think your leather pants may be just the ticket for your next business call.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Forward and Gotta

How do you know what to tackle in a day? Methods abound (see below). "Forward and Gotta" is one.

"Gotta" is where most of us live. . . the things we gotta get done today: meetings, administrivia and calls; driving carpool and shopping for dinner. They're tasks worth listing and working at; but they control us. If the "Gotta" list is our sole focus, we wind up living a "default" life; we haven't moved our dreams or projects forward one iota, just shoveled the stuff of our life around.

"Forward" is where achievement lies. . .Making the marketing call that could turn into a sale; completing the college application; setting up a networking meeting. It's the task that moves you towards getting what's important to you. . .the job, money or fame. It's also an uncomfortable place; the more challenging to-do, with a less predictable outcome. Risk lives here, with its possibility for "no."

Try making a daily list, with two columns: "Gotta" and "Forward" head each one. The questions to ask are: (a) What do I have to get done today? and (b) What will move me forward? You're the best judge of forward. "Going to the art museum" sounds banal, but if you're writing a mystery about a murder in an art museum; it's important research and item for the "Forward" list. Your gut knows; follow it.

Make time to do "Forward" every day, probably morning, before the day gets snatched away. "Gotta" has a huge appetite and chomps up the hours. But "Forward." Ah. . .the realization of dreams lives there. You'll also feel you've had a better day if something that mattered to you got done in it.

Other "get it done" methods:

Stephen Covey: Has a quadrant with these headings:
Not urgent but important
Urgent and important;
Urgent but not important
Not urgent and not important
His point is that we should work on "Not urgent but important."

Alan Lakein: Organize all your tasks under A (important), B (not so important) or C (ho-hum). Focus your best energy on completing the "A" area's tasks; use your lowest-energy times on the "C" jobs.

Another: Each day write down the 5 most important things you have to do and complete the first, then the second, and so on. You'll always be completing critical tasks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

For Want of a Thank You Note

Remember the nursery rhyme "For want of a nail"? The shoe was lost, all was lost because a nail was lacking (see below).

A friend lost his job in an industry where the shelf life of employees is shorter than milk; and he lasted about twice as long before being downsized. I was beginning to ask another friend if she would network with him when she essentially told me to talk to the hand. She'd helped him get his just-lost job; and he had never sent a thank-you note. Years later, she was still frosted about it. You just don't DO that in the executive world.

His not writing one surprised me because he whips out a note if you dump the burger wrappers for him at the mall eatery. But it was clear that today he has NO access to the best-connected person in his field. All for want of a thank-you note.

In challenging times, things matter more; like being precisely qualified, telling the truth on resumes, and crafting thank-you notes. This is not the time to be lax in minding your manners.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a nail.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don't Let Go

You've settled for a less-than job. You feel you'll be trapped here forever because you need this little bit of money and those few benefit dollars. You watch more of your family members get unemployment handed to them, and you wonder what's the purpose of holding on to your dream. Today is dreary, tomorrow's likely the same. Where are the polished shoes and crisp shirts you love. . .and the work that didn't make you feel ashamed to say you're doing?

Don't let go of your dream. As bad as it is, this awful is truly temporary. BELIEVE it, so you have a reason to leap into your rut today and your next today. If you focus on the awful NOW, that's the same future you'll create, minute by dreary minute. Your decision to take on this work has a kind of nobility to it, giving you a fineness of character, a moral muscle that will stand you in good stead down the road. You're not the first who's stepped down into bagging groceries, driving a boat, swinging a hammer, pulling blood samples; nor are you different/better than those who happily do it the whole year long. You're just here. . .for now.

What will get you through is to remember the dream, and to polish the shoes and to keep the search effort going while you proudly plunk that paycheck on the kitchen table. This is a bad time. Don't make it the end of your world. Stay away from cynicism, bitterness and defeat, and the people who court them. Keep looking toward the dream and what it promises, and do something today to remind yourself of its importance.

The dream deferred is not the dream denied.