The Soup Method For Building Teams

Cooking inspires my appreciation for developing people and businesses. It is a beautiful example of transforming finite ingredients into endless possibilities that create memorable experiences. Even the most basic techniques can provide several lifetimes of sustenance and are open to creative interpretation.

Here is a story I found that  correlates well with building teams

In a land and time far away…

A couple of travelers from a foreign land came across a village and asked residents for a simple meal and a place to stay for the evening, but got rejected every time. As the sun set, the travelers built a small campfire in the square and placed a pot of water with a few stones to cook. 

One by one, villagers approached and asked about the contents. The travelers answered each villager the same way, “Traditional stone soup from our homeland. It is amazing! We are happy to share a bowl with you, if you make a contribution – even if it is merely some scraps of onion, bits of carrots, or ends of potatoes.”

As the evening went on, more and more villagers were intrigued and added something to the pot until one of the travelers decided it was ready, and began sharing with all who contributed. A brilliant meal was enjoyed and the travelers were asked to visit the village on their return.

The beauty of the soup analogy is that each ingredient remains itself – potatoes are still potatoes – yet they also absorb aspects of everything else as they blend and meld together. Here are a couple of ways you can use this recipe to build your teams.

Step 1: Take complete inventory.

We are rarely given absolutely ideal circumstances when putting together our teams. Accept the situation as it is right now and start working with what you have to make it better. Look at everything and everyone with the perspective that they can somehow add to the solution.

Your minuscule budget, rapid deadline, high expectations, and any other challenge are merely design constraints that we must work through. Used properly, pressure, creativity, passion, and purpose are often precisely what is needed to complete the goal. Throw out assumptions and preconceived notions as they only make experiences bitter.

Explore the hidden talents among co-workers; a receptionist with art skills; a clerical intern with a knack for building and construction; the programmer who used to be a teacher; and the new guy in sales with a photography hobby. These under-utilized skills build personal connections and are often vast resources waiting to be tapped.

Seek opportunities to create intrigue and interest. A curious buzz or well-managed rumor are ways to get the ‘informal, yet established’ systems working in your favor.

Step 2: Provide a safe place to collaborate.

Creative ideas, whims, suggestions, skills, and passions (especially ones we keep to ourselves) are often attached to very delicate emotions. Typical business meetings are filled with power plays, role expectations, and egos that often prevent people from speaking up and offering new ideas.

Find ways people can invest almost imperceptible amounts. To reduce the ‘threshold of contribution’; establish an environment free of judgment, authority, status, position, and where everyone is of equal importance. It often helps to host meetings in a somewhat unconventional place or time – an outdoor courtyard, off-site meeting room, at 10:00pm, in someone’s home, etc.

In highly effective teams; solutions and decisions are never one-dimensional. They are the result of carefully analyzing, discussing, arguing, and enhancing the contributions by everyone. Strength comes from everyone’s voice coming together, not from one voice that silences others.

Step 3: Be open to the various contributions of others.

One of the biggest reasons people leave jobs/employers is because they feel they are not heard, valued, or appreciated. Whatever they give, be grateful, accept the gift, and find some way to make it useful.

It may look like scraps, leftovers and broken pieces; but these are far better than nothing at all. Accept everything but blame and excuses. Perfectionists can take a lesson from artists and ‘hackers’ who simply create solutions out of what is available. Follow-up versions are where we move towards perfection and scale.

People are full of passions, ideas, and experiences – these benefits may be hidden behind some defense mechanisms. Leadership is about finding these qualities and learning how to work with them to produce great results. In food as well as teams, superstars are only made by those who lift them on their shoulders.

You likely have to bear through some tears as you chop an onion; but when cooked, those same chemicals that make us cry are converted into complex sweetness that can’t be replaced.

Step 4: Share it with others. 

Openly share the possibilities, responsibilities, resources, gains, glory, challenges, and ALL information. Make sure everyone understands the value of their contribution. Teams are built on trust, and transparency is one of the easiest ways to establish a strong foundation.

Leadership is one of the most important things to share with a team. It is an opportunity for people to observe and actively develop their own skills. This simple gesture can positively change their entire career while cementing your leadership skills as well.

Our traveling friends were hungry and wanted a meal for themselves. In offering to share with all who contributed, they were able to accomplish much more. Some say this is how we got the ‘Pot Luck’ style of dining/catering. Everyone brings something and leaves with plenty.

Like other timeless recipes, its simplicity can be misleading. Though the basic recipe might be followed each time, there will always be variety in the end result.

 

I invite you to connect with me or start a conversation about how to build better teams. We can arrange workshop around a cooking demo/meal.

Four Keys to Building Trust

There are millions of books and articles written about the value of trust and how to build it. More are produced every year. In spite of this, it seems people in roles of marketing, sales, and leadership find themselves challenged in how to build trust in their roles.

I offer four simple concepts that have been effective throughout my life and career. These concepts are as easy to do as they are to ignore. Just writing them to share today is part of me renewing my commitment to them.

Keep Your Promises:

Do what you say and say what you’ll actually be doing. It sounds simple enough, but I know from personal experience that it can be easy to say what people want to hear. Early in my sales career I thought I wanted to be known as agreeable and accommodating. In my eagerness to please potential customers, I would agree to requests (discounts, expedited delivery, rushed production, etc.) that lead me to a couple situations where I couldn’t keep my promises – making the reputation and the deal backfire on me.

One of my solutions was to reserve blocks of time where I would make sales calls/presentations. And reserve other blocks of time to make good on my promises. During calls, I would write down all the things I said I would do and schedule a deadline verbally with them – “I’ll have that information to you on Thursday by at noon.” One of my favorite ‘keep promises’ blocks was Thursday mornings.

As I got more comfortable in my system, I learned how powerful this was at establishing trust with clients and prospects. Phase two of it was to ask busy owners when and how they wanted to have certain information presented to them (email, phone call, visit/meeting, etc.) so I could schedule each one as an appointment on my calendar.

Communicate Openly, Truthfully, and Timely:

If doing things the right way were easy, they wouldn’t call it ‘the right way’. It is not easy to bring up difficult situations, especially when it makes you look bad. When we look at mistakes and errors as opportunities to learn, improve, or impress; we can begin to understand their true power.

There is an adage that tells us, “not making mistakes means you aren’t trying hard enough.” You’ll earn more trust by pushing the envelope at the right place and pace. When errors happen, own them. Communicate proactively and quickly.

Not that I liked having my orders get messed up, or I liked calling clients to report a problem; but the results were always positive when these situations were followed in this manner.

Act Consistently With Beliefs:

The phrase, action speaks louder than words remains true, but it overlooks the synergies created by actions and words supporting each other. This is more important in today’s age of social media and the variety of ways we are represented digitally because each profile offers a history of our interactions.

Potential employers, employees, customers, partners, investors, board members, and more look to social media to form opinions about a company, its products, leadership, and culture. We want to engage with businesses and people who are aligned with our beliefs. Credibility is built on ALL of our actions, not just when we are face to face.

Deliver More:

Add something more to what you do – a bonus, something extra, an unmistakable part of YOU. It could be a smile, hand written thank you note, or a comforting story about how you made the same mistakes they made. It can be reassurance, positive thought, sharing of your passion, or something creative. These gifts strengthen the relationships because they connect us on a emotional level beyond the scope of the transaction.

These gifts are more valuable than favors, chits, or I-owe-yous because they are volunteered and therefore not tabulated and tracked. This is exactly the type of human interactions that keep us together as groups, tribes, and even society itself.

 

These are not limited to business relationships. They can (and should) be applied to interactions with friends, family, volunteer opportunities, and romantic relationships with the same zeal and consistency.

How To Create Alignment In Your Organization

Before we can think about creating it, we should spend a moment or two making sure we know what it is. My favorite definitions are: A position of agreement or common understanding; Consistency across or a coming together of different ideas; An arrangement of groups in relation to each other.

In simple terms; misalignment CAUSES stress while alignment REDUCES it.

Step 1: Be Authentic

Alignment among groups and organizations is not about how well people can pretend. It is about truly connecting an internal belief that you value with an one shared by the organization. It is about finding common ground, not compromising it.

In business, leadership, sales, and any other personal relationship; alignment is a constant state of fluidity being reinforced and destroyed with every single action by all involved. Being natural and authentic is the easiest way to offer personal consistency. It is what you live outside of the ‘9-5’ that matters more than what you do and say at work.

Step 1.5: Have A Core Purpose.

This applies equally to individuals and organizations. You cannot have alignment if at least one party is unsure of the things that matter to them. Invest the time to put it into words – however rough or awkward they may sound.

A core purpose helps filter and unify the skills and contributions of people by providing a framework of what is to happen. Functions and tasks of the job easily become ways each of us go about fulfilling or living the organization’s core purpose.

Profit and money are not your purpose. Period. They are poor approximations of value, connection, and trust.

Step 1.75: Share It With Others.

It is pointless to have a purpose if it doesn’t excite you to the point of nearly bursting at the seams to share it with others! So start sharing it already.

Know that sharing your purpose is an open-ended invitation for others to critique it as well as tell you theirs. That is the beauty of it all though. Through these exchanges, we constantly update and refine our purposes while we are exposed to new ideas. You will undoubtedly want to add some aspects you hear from someone else.

Step 2: Repeat. 

State your purpose and values three times daily for 60 days, then twice daily for another 60, followed by the first thing in morning for another 60. This repetition not only helps you refine your purpose, it is crucial to being an authentic reflection of who you are and what you believe.

Just as you start to get bored with it, you’ll get find yourself in a situation that challenges you – either reinforcing or shifting your values.

I had a client ask if I was interested in a project that would put a great deal of money in my pocket and increase my status in an industry. It was perfectly legal, but didn’t align with my purpose. When I gave my reasons for respectfully declining, I was instantly applauded for the display of integrity. We both still have great respect for each other though we haven’t done business together in over a decade.

In case you are interested: My purpose is to engage people, create value, and grow businesses. It has been an exciting 20 year work-in-progress and I anticipate another 20 years of the same pleasure.

 

Do you want help discovering your organization’s core purpose? Connect with me here and I will be happy to discretely offer my assistance.

Connecting With Content

If you weren’t yet already aware; one of the big trends in business is Content Marketing, or Demand Marketing. It is about producing pieces of content – graphics, pictures, videos, memes, etc. that contains information about aspects of your business dealings without being overly promotional so that people will want to interact with it. It can be funny, clever, amazing, cute, customer testimonial, how-to guide, or simply informative. The key is to attract legitimate attention and interaction.

This is in stark contrast to the traditional model where marketers interrupt an event in order to promote their business. Whether you are interrupting our favorite TV show, listening to music, sports game, or other activity; people do not want such messages and are quite skilled at ignoring them. The only way we seem to interact with TV ads is to press the skip/fwd/adv button as soon as we can.

Social Aspect:

The basic premise is to create interesting pieces of information that people want to consume, then make it available in places they will find it and perhaps pass it along to others. Social media channels seem like perfect outlets for such content as it is easy to skim and share.

Reads, likes, comments, and shares drive up search rankings and integrate more easily with Alexa, Siri, and such.

Remember that humans are caring and social creatures (for the most part) and often share content with multiple friends who might also enjoy or benefit from your content. One influential follower who shares the post might bring additional hundreds or thousands of other viewers. And a video that has logged 1,000,000 views has likely earned more than double the exposure as viewers play it multiple times or play it for a group of friends/colleagues.

Beyond Social:

Content marketing allows for huge opportunities on social media but it has life beyond the newsfeed. Each interaction with content builds and strengthens a connection to other humans. These connections are  critical in forming preferences to brands for products or services.

They also help serve as early identification system for potential customers and can be the beginning of automated marketing systems to help them understand that they do, in fact, want/need your services.

Email:

Spam and unwanted email is easily filtered and discarded without ever being seen. But curated and focused emails are easily filtered to the TOP of a subscriber’s list. They also get opened – multiple times – and can multiple multiple clicks and interactions. All of this can be integrated into profiles/preferences that continue to make the sharing of content more effective.

Beyond The Sale:

Content programs drive sales. They also build social interactions (pre-sales). They can also be used for active and preventative support as well as add-on sales of new products. Most importantly, they can help convert customers into repeat customers, and even into powerful advocates who enthusiastically (without pay) help you attract and sell products to even new customers.

As you might have guessed, the best approach is that of a highly strategic plan that is integrated across multiple aspects of business operations. Interestingly, content can be used in many different purposes with only minor tweaks. A white paper can be broken into 3-4 blogs, and further into dozens of tweets to promote them both to different audiences through keywords and tags.

 

 

Feel free to connect with me to start the conversation on how we might incorporate a content strategy to suit your business needs.

Simple Ways To Build Your Brand

Let me start off by making it perfectly clear that YOU ARE A BRAND. Your teams, clubs, groups, organizations, associations, and businesses are brands as well. Everything that has a reputation, produces an emotion (even the anticipation of an emotion), or makes a memory is a brand. Brands are either in the process of growing or dying.

Feel free to read that first paragraph as many times as you need to fully understand what I mean by a brand.

For too long now we have been lead to believe building a brand was difficult, arduous, and expensive. This is simply not true today.

Branding is about human connections. Connections have been a part of humanity for as long as we have inhabited the planet. Marketing, sales, leadership, financing, and more – in fact ALL aspects of business – are merely different ways to build human connections.

These aspects of business are not islands, silos, or disconnected vaults. Like depicted in the beautiful fresco School Of Athens by Raphael (used in header image); they are common areas of experience, theories, and passions designed to spark conversations. Such conversations are essential to building connections.

People make connections with brands (remember people are brands) where there is alignment in beliefs, values, and or actions. If you want to make more connections you can follow the age-old saying of “attracting more bees with honey than with vinegar’ – and simply act, believe, and value similar things as your ideal audience(s).

How to be Authentic.

Invest the time to discovering your true self. Dedicate the rest of your life to continuously refining your identity. Loosing sight of yourself leads to all manner of undesirable outcomes.

Permit yourself to like some things, but not others – even when it doesn’t make rational sense. It is crucial to know your preferences and desires. You will soon identify complex hierarchies of important things

Allow yourself to believe what you want to believe, but be open to criticism and well-constructed challenges. This is how we expand or shift our beliefs. There are few things worse than shrinking beliefs.

Seek ideas that resonate with you.

Seek and support businesses, organizations, groups, and people who share similar beliefs. Social media is a great place to start because so much is available with just a few taps of a convenient screen.

Continuously expand your comfort zone by trying new things. Perhaps you will absolutely enjoy sudoku, sewing, skydiving, skiing, etc. Use interesting quotes and memes as fodder for daily deeper discovery (pick a topic, set a timer for 30 minutes, then explore). This might easily introduce you to a new favorite thinker, writer, musician, business tycoon, from a era long gone.

Create Value.

Connecting people is tremendously valuable and encourages others to introduce you to new people. All it takes is 2-3 sentences that explain why you think they should meet.

Another great way to create value is to listen. Listen to the words people say, the words they don’t say, the emotions behind them. Ask questions about their interests, desires, and quirkiness. Listen with the intent to understand (not to merely have a turn to speak yourself), then follow it up with information that may be relevant to their situation.

Remember that we grow and prosper to the extent that we deliver value to others.

As you can see, building a brand is not difficult, arduous, or expensive. All it requires is road map, some navigation/direction, and a little effort each day.