Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Archive for September, 2009

The Need for Speed

Posted by debrahelwig on September 29, 2009

speed demonWow, what a week this has been – and it’s only Tuesday.

My “Debra blew it” factor over the past few days has been a lot higher than normal.  I’ve missed some important stuff. Doing the octopus eight-arm dance of panic, I dialed in late to a super important conference call. I then followed up that bit of brilliance with a typo in an important email. Ai yi yi.

None of this is like me.  And it feels pretty crummy. But I take a tiny bit of comfort in the fact I’m not alone.  The number of blog posts I’ve seen about “mistakes” and “saying sorry” from super smart folks like Chris Brogan and Dianna Huff and the folks at Twitter has been growing by leaps and bounds.

What the heck is going on here?

It’s insidious. It’s ugly. It’s the need for speed.

The darkest downside of the “always on” Internet/Social Media revolution is that we can do stuff a whole lot faster than ever.  We can communicate in nanoseconds. Who needs a well crafted letter to express pleasure (or ire)?  We can tell people exactly what we think in 140 characters, faster than we can even dial a phone.

And because we CAN, we think we HAVE TO. And because we think we HAVE TO, we DO, and then people EXPECT US TO. It’s a vicious cycle.

What happens when we go too fast?

We do dumb stuff. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Yes, they happen. But they happen a lot more when we’re playing whac-a-mole. A recent Stanford University research report showed that using multiple media tools at once resulted in “broad based incompetence…where people are worse at focusing their attention, worse at organizing information, and worse at quickly switching between tasks.” Yikes.

We are inadequately grateful. In the past, good manners taught us to respond to benefactors in a gracious way. No longer. Think about the number of times this week that you responded to the kindness of friends and colleagues with a hasty “gee thanks!” via email or Twitter – or didn’t respond at all, thinking you’d write a longer email when you had the time. The pressure of the clock is dumbing down our interactions; our days seem more fraught with crises and less full of graces.

We spill the beans.
Dianna Huff tells the story of a lawyer who lost a case because she was overheard talking about it on a cell phone in public. A snarky Facebook post or Tweet in the wrong place or at the wrong time can be a shot heard round the world.  If you’re moving too fast and not thinking hard enough about what you’re saying to whom, you can deep-six yourself as fast as you can type.

None of these things are on purpose. But expectations are high, and the economy is tight, and who can afford to say no to anything our clients or colleagues ask us to do?  So we cram our schedules overfull and assume that technology will help us get everything done in the right order.  We add more tools and pop-up reminders and leave messages for ourselves on our cell phones. We make a to do list to control our multiple to-do lists.

And none of it works.

Especially in professional services, where a single mistake can be the kiss of death. Auditors can’t screw up. Ever. Lawyers, blow it and your client lands in jail or a deal goes bad. Marketers, make a mistake in a firm’s brand campaign, and decades of client loyalty unravel.

Often, quicker just isn’t better.

I’ve done some serious thinking and research on this, and I think I’ve found a way to stop the madness. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits calls it single taskinggetting intentional.

This week, I’m going to take a diligent and critical look at who is making demands on my time. Who are the clients or supervisors who constantly send work in crisis mode? What are the triggers that ignite the firestorms in my workplace? How can I re-align people’s expectations? I plan to get real about urgent versus important versus habitual (we ask for it fast because we can, not because we need to), and prioritize accordingly.

I’m going to make space to do my work WELL, not just quickly.

Going against the public grain – shutting down the speed demons (both real and internal) who constantly up the ante – takes a lot of chutzpah. But making a considered effort to get off the fast track, concentrating on one thing at a time, and saying no to unreasonable demands may do more than aid my sanity. It may work wonders on my career. And I bet it could do yours some good as well.

Who wants to join me? What can you do to silence your inner speed demon?

Photo by nahkahousu (license).


Posted in Attitudes, Leadership, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lingo Bingo: Why Being a Good Interpreter Matters More than Your Technical Skills

Posted by debrahelwig on September 17, 2009

Lingo Want a wake-up-call about how to attract great clients? Have I got a story for you.

Last year, when my husband’s birthday rolled around, I casually asked about what he needed for his beloved woodworking hobby. “A stacked dado, probably,” he replied.

Oh, boy. Stacked day-dough. What the heck is that? Since I was being sneaky, I couldn’t ask. No problem. I’d go to a woodworking place and they’d know.

I started at the most exclusive woodworking specialty store in our area – upscale, smelling of lemon oil and cedar, full of expensive toys. Conversations about things I didn’t understand buzzed around me. Intimidated, I sidled up to the counter between two customers debating arcane aspects of rotary sanders and asked, “I need to buy a … stacked day-dough?” The clerk waved me over to a wall of – stuff. To an experienced eye, it was probably a cinch to see what I needed. But to me, it was a giant wall of metal pointy things. The clerk didn’t notice. The air in the room was definitely, “If you have to ask, you don’t belong here.” I left.

My next stop was a big box store. The orange one. The huge racks and displays were even more intimidating. But this time, the clerk made all the difference. My questioning, “Day-dough?” was met by a smile. “Ma’am, you have absolutely no understanding of what you’re asking for, do you?” he said. “NO,” I replied in relief.

So, for the next 10 or 15 minutes, this kind man asked questions. LOTS of questions that I did understand. What kind of work my husband did. How often he did it. Who he did it for. And at the same time, I got a kick-in-the-pants introduction to table saws and saw blades (including stacked dadoes). I bought what I needed. But – the much more important thing is – I felt great about it. I felt like this man cared about what my husband needed. He cared about making me look good. He cared about helping me learn something.

And, on B-Day, not only was my husband delighted with the gift, he was thrilled that I could talk to him about it. Hooray, me. Double hooray, big orange sales clerk! Big Box Orange immediately became my home improvement store.

And from that experience, I learned something that applies TIMES TEN in the professional services world: It’s not your skills that set you apart. It’s your ability – and desire – to listen and interpret.

Every industry is full of acronyms and insider-speak that are gibberish to folks on the outside — and accounting and law are worse than most. To a non-accountant, hearing phrases peppered with IRS, A&A, SALT, PCAOB, AICPA, IFRS, and the like sounds like little more than Jabberwocky.

And if they don’t understand in their own context what you’re doing, or why it’s valuable, they’ll go somewhere else.

It’s the same story as my quest for a stacked dado. Most of your potential clients aren’t sure what they need, and they definitely don’t know the ins and outs of how to get it done. Your value as a trusted advisor is greatest when you clearly explain what they need and why, in a language they can understand. A few folks will be impressed if you throw around acronym-laden insider speak, but most will just quietly take their business elsewhere.

At the end of the day, trust is worth more than talent. When you can meet a potential client where they are, understanding their needs and using their lingo to explain what you can do for them, you’re well on the way to a perfect meeting of the minds. And a highly fruitful client experience.

** For a fun (and scary long) list of accounting acronyms, visit For law, see
Photo by zinjixmaggir (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

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