What Are You Really Good At?
Chris Wallace is a strategic consultant to businesses and leaders seeking to transform their communications, reputation and stakeholder management. www.wallacetransform.com
What Are You Really Good At?
My oldest daughter was once an adorable tiny princess who hung onto my every word. It seems that my attention was diverted along the way because now she’s suddenly evolved into a teenager who stares at me blankly, like I’m gabbling in an alien language, when I’m tirading at her to tidy her room. But right now she is looking to me for answers again because she’s reached the stage where they are asking her what she wants to do with her life, something to do with choosing the subjects she will specialise in so as to categorise her skill set and begin to shape her future career options.To her credit, she is taking this seriously, like it’s an irreversible life-setting decision she is being asked to make. Maybe its best that I keep quiet about the fact that even though I am considerably older, I still grapple with the same issue and am only about half a step ahead of her here. It’s not that often I have her attention. So, to help with the answers, some questions:
What are you good at? Everything really. By which she means competent, which is good, because otherwise I guess I’d be going to have words with her school. Well then, what subjects do you particularly like? Nothing really, it’s all school isn’t it? We are making no progress but at least I’m resisting the urge to go all professional and ask her where she adds value, or makes a unique contribution, or even can describe herself in terms of proposition, knowing that if I did, I would get the same blank look that heads my way when she’s told to tidy her room. How to get somewhere with all of this, where is our breakthrough?
Flashback two months, I am squeezed in at a table at an extraordinarily busy café for breakfast time at Canary Wharf. I am chatting with someone who it turns out is quite a major cheese at one of the banks towering around us. He is surprisingly approachable for someone who has come down from the fortieth floor to meet with me, in one of my very first engagements as a consultant, in a rendezvous arranged by our mutual contact. There is only an occasional, almost accidental glint of the taut intelligence that puts him in charge of the commercial banking – mergers and acquisitions – unit of the same bank, though he confesses he does not know what the meeting is about, and I’m only half a step ahead of him on that. How many are in your team? About thirty or so. Is it competitive? In what regard? Does your work find you or do you have to hunt it? Very much the latter. He shakes his head and puts elbows to the table. Sometimes even against other teams in our bank. So how do you get your assignments. Mainly referrals. And why do you get these? Because we are good. In what way? In everything. Anything you are not so good at? Nothing, it’s all banking and we are very competent. Are you uniquely competent or can your competitors operate at the same level? One elbow on the table, hand on chin. Probably the same I guess. Staff move across all the time in every direction. So why do clients give you referrals? And he looks at me like I’ve asked him to tidy his bedroom. Not going well, a quarter step ahead, if that.
How would your clients describe you, what would they say they particularly enjoy working with your team and why would that be of value to them? If you found out there was a behaviour, or a particular way you do things that gave you advantage and you all were more aware of it – when you are scoring goals and going where the competition cannot follow – would you not use that more strategically, and build your business proposition around it? Could you test that, benchmark some indicators before you do – conversion rate of pitches, invitations to tender – and then see how it performs under a new approach as you try to max out on the new proposition?
That’s a lot to think about, he says. Easier said than done.
Well yes and no. Big questions yes, ones no one or certainly no organisation ever takes enough time to consider. Not even when you have a team of thirty to support in a ferociously competitive environment. Making a breakthrough? An afternoon’s work. If you have the right questions in the right framework, the right guys in the room with the right facilitator. A workshop to set the definitions.
So that’s what we arranged to do, and did. An afternoon, all on the same step. And the insights set the strategy and execution.
Cut back to my daughter, and her life-defining/confining choices. It’s not about what she’s competent at either. That’s where I’m going wrong. Try this;
How would your friends describe you, when would they say you are most alive? What would they see themselves coming to you for help with, what do you like to do for them? What is your unique value proposition?
It’s only at the last question I get the blank look again, and to be honest I deserve it.
Chris Wallace is the founder director of Wallace transform.