Reading Seth Godin’s statement that “your brand is your promise”, I started to think about the organization I work for and whether when I talk to our clients about it I feel the need to “pretty up” the reality in order to convince the people in front of me that we are in fact true to our promise. Moving from saying anything to get the sale done to staying within the truth even if I “lose the sale” has been part of the journey of growing for me.
When I was younger (age wise and professionally), I felt that I was always “on show”, was guarded, making sure I said the right words, to the right people … and look spontaneous and authentic doing it. It makes me laugh now but back then it seemed like the recipe for success. It wasn’t. Lawsuits and difficult conversations I would have done anything to avoid helped me understand that this was not the way.
So, here is the question: We promise attention, time dedicated to students, innovation, engagement and passion – but do we always deliver? What do you say when you are asked if you are keeping the promise you are making? And how do you know how the promise is kept in a place where you are one person, in an office, not in the middle of the action and your colleagues in the faculty body are a few hundred individuals with their own styles and interpretation of “the promise”.
I don’t have recipes but I know this:
Don’t start talking until you have listened and listened well so that you understand from the people in front of you: if they know anything about your promise, if your promise is the delivery they are looking for, if your promise pushes any buttons with them and more so, if they believe in your promise. I will risk it and say that my most interesting conversations have come from time with people who were skeptical about our promise.
A staged speech about your organization will always show up as exactly what it is: fake. If there ever was a time when this was the thing to do, this time has passed, it is ancient. Drop it.
Know your organization inside and out. There is no way to show knowledge and certainty except knowing what you are talking about and feeling certain that what you are saying is in fact the truth. So, yes, put some serious time into getting to know your organization – do this regularly; all successful organizations evolve, if you are using one year old information you might just be seriously obsolete.
Look people in the eye, take notes if you can, keep the conversation to the point and don’t serve them “pre-fabricated” answers. They will always be able to tell – regardless of their language abilities.
Do not pre-judge people based on the cultural stereotypes that go through your head or that are present in the society you live and breathe in. In fact, you might just be in the wrong business if such stereotypes ever influence you in any way. Look out!
When your promise is challenged don’t take it as a personal affront. We live in a world where services are over promised and under delivered. It is only normal that people question: in any transaction known to man, all parties invest something that is more or less valuable to them, it is only natural that they question and want to know what they get in return. Get curious and try to understand what is behind the questions so that you make sure that you are addressing a belief, get to the bottom of it, so to speak.
Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, let me check on this”. People appreciate your honesty and everyone knows that it actually takes courage to say this. The catch here is that you do check and do get back to your interlocutor within a reasonable amount of time – preferably commonly agreed upon.
Don’t be afraid to say “I am sorry, we are not what you are looking for”. The misfortune of a mismatch is by far greater than “not making the numbers”. No organization under the sun can possibly serve everyone and your promise cannot possibly be appropriate for everyone so stick to the truth and you will be far better of for it.
Here is the hardest thing I find, by far: recognizing when we do under deliver, speaking about this to our teams and leaders and pushing buttons so that things happen – you either change your promise or you start delivering. This is when people’s egos start coming into play, difficult discussions become the norm and most often than not we find ourselves at a crossroads. But consider the alternative … .
One last thing: ask yourself the question – if the promise I am making to myself is to be authentic, courageous and kind, am I keeping my promise by staying in this role? Don’t ever stay unless the answer is a clear and quick yes.