Recently, my team and I held our annual kickoff meeting to discuss our strategic and tactical plan for the year ahead. You know that meeting where you come in charged up to take on the challenges and seize the opportunities in front of you? We do that too...every year.
In year-end reviews, I noticed a common thread: our people were lacking in inspiration and enthusiasm. As I started to think about what got us here, I recognized that the team was not inspired because they did not feel connected, nor did they share a mutual appreciation for what each member of the team does each day. In the absence of truly understanding what the person next to you contributes to the company, and how it all fits into the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish together, your work becomes mundane and uninspiring.
So, we scrapped the strategic planning agenda and we spent the day getting to know each other through stories about our work, our clients, our colleagues and ourselves. As Maya Angelou once said, "I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Off-site meetings filled only with strategic plans and Excel spreadsheets are important work in the moment, but they are forgettable. Interesting stories told by interesting people are inspiring and memorable. Great stories that are the driving force behind the success of a group or company stay with us forever.
Many great stories were told that day at our off-site, but there was one that we will all remember for years to come. One of our business development professionals took us through a year-long journey with one of his prospects, who is now a client and a friend to many of us. He reflected upon over 1,000 contacts, multiple breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings in various locations, and criss-crossing the country all to provide the solution set and relationship our prospect desired. Ask anyone in the organization prior to that story, and few could articulate the magnitude of what it takes to bring in a new client, let alone how to truly connect with a person you do not know. At one point, I found myself getting emotional over the story, as did several others in the room, including the storyteller. Later, when I asked him about it, here is what he said:
"My prospect commitments are not simply transactions to me. They are people who have entrusted me with their livelihoods and personal futures. I take that responsibility very seriously, hence my emotion."
So, the next time you find yourself buried in an Excel model or drowning in a strategic plan, stop and think about how you can inspire your client, prospect, team mate or colleague and find out what gets them up in the morning:
Tell a great story, and ask them to do the same.
Michael Parker is the Chief Development Officer for Hightower Advisors.