Imagine a situation suddenly happening in your firm that is unpleasant, annoying, and a real challenge that requires action. Likely your imagination isn’t even necessary as in reality; your office is currently dealing with several things that you didn’t plan on or desire to have to confront. It could be staffing shortages, your best person leaving for industry, a client that was acquired or left, ongoing pains with a recent acquisition, the struggle to find new clients, or a myriad of other possible ‘problems’ that have you worried and staying up all night. Whatever it is, the approach you take to any of these situations can make a difference in relieving the pressure and turning a challenge into an opportunity.
What is the best way to approach such a challenging situation? In my experience, people often react to challenges as opposed to responding to them. An example might be when you are listening to someone share some disappointing news and before the end of their story you have already had a reaction to the news. You immediately jump ahead to potential solutions and how you will communicate and ‘successfully’ implement the right one. Like two chemicals that come together to cause a reaction, this news has had that same effect on you. As human beings, we are wired to solve problems and have been confronted with thousands of them over many years of living and working, so we often feel confident that we know the end of the story and all that is left to do is react to the situation with one of our historical ‘bag of tricks.’
Every challenge comes wrapped in an opportunity. Responding, instead of reacting, to bad or challenging news provides the space for us to listen to every detail of the story being told and depending on its complexity, listen again, and this time asking questions to gain full understanding. It allows a conversation to unfold and full examination to take place so that options, and opportunities, can be surfaced. Instead of reacting to the long-tenured person leaving and promoting the next person in line, you can respond by examining all possible staffing options (internally and externally), and find the perfect person, who it turns out, is an up-and-coming staff member who is ready to leave bookkeeping behind. You fill the role and now true succession can take place. Or the loss of a major client forces you to respond by looking very closely at that client and the entire client base to determine that that lost client was not a great fit after all. Staff didn’t like working with them, and they used up enormous resources that can now be diverted to growing other parts of the client base that show more potential.
Is Your Firm Reacting or Responding in the Marketplace?
Reactive people wait for situations to happen and then take quick action with little thought to the impact of the action. Responding is more like seeing and listening to what is happening in the market and taking proactive steps to search for the opportunities that exist. A response is a much more positive step while reacting connotes that a certain negative force was brought upon you and then, left with no option, steps are taken in a hurried fashion to relieve the pressure immediately. Sometimes letting the pressure build while you give full attention to exploring possibilities, is the better way to find long term solutions and more powerful opportunities.
|Negative force||Positive action|
|Reply with a quick fix||Aim at understanding|
|Narrow focus||Holistic approach|
|Historical bias toward a solution||Future-focused toward potential opportunities|
Of course, in the heat of the moment it is very difficult to NOT react to a client who is upset about their bill by immediately reducing it and taking a lower realization. Responding would require more time to ask additional questions to understand, go deeper into the issue(s) to uncover the ‘real’ concern, which is unlikely to be about money. After all, if you provide a high level of value, there is rarely a confrontational discussion with a client regarding their bill. It is more likely to be a relationship issue that involves communication.
React to clear, high impact, culture violations from a high-producing partner or staff member by ignoring the damage that their bad behavior has on the firm – or respond with an honest examination of the full impact and a clear message of no tolerance that includes potential separation.
React to losing out on multiple major proposals by accepting the losses and complain about being undercut in price – or respond to the losses by conducting a complete and thorough review of the proposal process, including a win/loss review of the last five winning and losing proposals.
No one ever drove to work hoping that when they get there, they will be able to confront another problem they didn’t anticipate. However, it happens on a regular basis to everyone almost every day. Seeing challenges as hidden opportunities and being aware of the power of a response versus the less than ideal knee-jerk reaction to a situation.
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