Category Archives: team

Coloring Outside the Lines

I was having a conversation over lunch today which reminded me that the more I refine my practice of AEC marketing, the more it requires me to venture into subject areas that were previously thought to be outside of my purview or pay grade.   Let me illustrate:

Let’s say I’m charged with charting a course that will get my firm to a determined revenue goal within a determined amount of time.  Among the considerations I look at under the circumstances is how profitable we are with certain types of clients or market verticals.  While gathering such information, I may learn that, for example, we tend to do civic work more profitably than healthcare.  I may also learn that, within the civic realm, we are more likely to be profitable when working with client A vs. client B.  I may also learn that profitability within this sector is much more dependent on which project manager/supervisor is leading the work than on type of project or the client.  Each of these outcomes requires a different response.

If I know we are more profitable with civic than healthcare, my response may be to work on lowering opportunity costs for healthcare pursuits.  Many of the steps that can be taken toward this end are in marketing’s wheelhouse.  If I learn that we’re more profitable working for client A than client B, I can gather and share this information to help make informed decisions about who we want to pursue and how much we want to spend pursuing them.  Some of this is in marketing’s wheelhouse too.  If, however, I learn that the real difference is based on which employee manages the job, most of the solutions that need to be employed to address the problem are not traditionally in marketing’s “lane”.  However, in my opinion, they are still marketing’s business.

Marketing has historically been an amplifier, not a creator of the firm’s “brand” – which is the cumulative perception of all the various experiences those inside and outside the firm have in their interactions with you – something we now call “human experience”.    What marketing communicates becomes what potential clients/employees/project partners expect.  Unless our billable colleagues can consistently deliver on what marketing promises, we set ourselves up to fail.  Thus, in the age of instant, on-line ratings posted on, Glassdoor, Yelp and the like, the days of “staying in my lane” are, by necessity, over.

So, how do I broach the subject when I see a marketing problem that’s not really mine to fix?  I believe the correct course of action is to present the challenge to my firm leaders with enough data to demonstrate why it’s a marketing problem.  I ask them to fix it and to keep me in the loop as they do.  I then try to focus my marketing efforts on the areas when I know we can deliver on our promise.  I also trust my firm leaders to keep me posted as they fix any problems that compromise a complete and positive customer experience.

 

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Filed under CX, Human Experience, HX, marketing, project management, team

Leading From Behind

I have a quick lesson in role reversal for my billable AEC colleagues.  Imagine you work for a large, Fortune 100 public relations and marketing firm. You lead the in-house team transforming all their global facilities. Sound good so far?

You report to a leadership team that knows everything about marketing, and a little about workplace design. Thus, you need to learn the language of the marketing industry to communicate well in your job. Some of the billable staff don’t respect you because you’re overhead. Some of the people you are called upon to mentor sign your paycheck, and they are more accustomed to leading than being led. So how would you guide that firm’s leaders? What about those who don’t see your value but need your expertise?

For the architects, engineers and contractors out there, relax. This is not your job. For the marketing folks at AEC firms out there, I think you’ll recognize that this is exactly your job. Learning how to lead from behind is an essential skill to master if you’re going to do your job well. I was raised to command and control, so it took me a long time to learn how to lead from behind. Eventually I got it and I have some experience to share.

The term “leading from behind” comes from Nelson Mandela who compares being a leader to being a shepherd. Mandela says, “He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

He stays behind the flock

Leading from behind requires one to inspire or nudge rather than direct. It provides a vantage point from which to see those who are confused about or distracted from the path, and to help these stragglers along. My first boss, Jerry Irvine, was excellent at this. In my 20s I was an eager and arrogant college grad. When I came to Jerry with an ill-informed idea, he never said, “Don’t do that; do this.” Instead he asked me questions about my idea. By answering his questions I figured out myself when my idea was flawed, which helped me make better decisions going forward.

“Letting the most nimble go out ahead,

If you’re going to bring up the rear, you need to inspire someone to lead the charge, and make sure they benefit from going out ahead. I learned this lesson my 30s when I taught college. Having practiced and studied my craft for over 10 years by then I had forgotten how I learned what I knew, so I wasn’t teaching everybody well. I made a deal with whatever students had “As” going into finals. If they would run a study group with at least five of their classmates, they could opt out of the exam. When test prep was done by their peers, more students attended and everyone in the class did better on the exams. All I had to do was let my own ego get out of the way.

“whereupon others follow”

Change happens on a bell curve. While early adopters may “go out ahead”, innovation is always in danger of dying until the majority adopts it. The majority needs to see the benefits before they opt in and my job is to show them something better than what they have now.   Lest you be tempted to disparage them, we need followers. I learned the value of following by taking dance lessons with my husband. Ballroom dancing only works with a leader and a follower. With two leaders, it’s just stand-up arm wrestling.

“not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind”.

Good leaders found the genius in me that I didn’t yet see in myself. Can you think of a more remarkable gift? They gave me the credit when things went well and took the blame when things went south. They didn’t just tell me the way, they showed me, so in watching how they handled themselves, I learned how to become a professional.  Just as you appreciate your own parents more after you have kids, so it is with some leaders.  You often only recognize them once you’re a leader yourself.

Those who have led with humility, by example, have been my greatest teachers. Their reward came from seeing light bulbs go on above the heads of those they have guided. Nowadays, I see the advantages of being the kind of leader most people can only see in the rearview mirror. I’ve been given many gifts. They need to be paid forward.

 

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Filed under marketing, team, Uncategorized

Who’s Your Tribe?

A facilities director, a contractor, an architect and a development director walked into a (breakfast) bar and began a frank conversation about the things each of us do that drive the other ones crazy when trying to get a project going.  No, it’s not the punchline of a joke, although the conversation was at times as hilarious as it was instructive; plus it was interesting enough to draw a crowd of over a hundred eavesdroppers/contributors at a national facilities conference.

On the way home from the conference I was reflecting on the things that made this panel a success and recognizing that they were also the things that make a project a success: common purpose, enough trust to allow for vulnerability, open communications, and acceptance of shared responsibility for the outcome.  In other words, we were united in the understanding that, for the purposes of this particular 90 minutes on this particular day, we were all members of the same tribe –  built environment professionals – and it was our job to understand and inform each other about how we can work well together.

So often projects go south because instead of aligning ourselves with our project teammates, we identify with our particular discipline, lumping all other disciplines, and occasionally the client, into the broad category of “them”.  When the latter happens you end up with the equivalent of a group of people standing on a sinking ship arguing about who punched the whole in the boat in an effort to assign both blame and risk to one of “them” .  When the former happens, you focus on fixing the hole because you know that, at the end of the day, all project partners will share the risk.    Personally, I think the former is how it should be.

The best project experiences are those in which honorable people develop a bond driven by mutual respect, shared purpose and commitment to collaboration.  They recognize that it’s all human beings on this team and that each of us is tasked with giving our best effort to the assignment and the benefit of the doubt to each other.  Sounds like a tribe I want to join.  How about you?

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Filed under project management, team, tribe