Excerpted from the book on mindful business management, Business Black Belt
Never give an order that can be understood.
Always give an order that can never be misunderstood.
~ Douglas MacArthur, W.W.II General
Why can’t people follow directions? Your clients and boss are your customers — listening to them and giving them exactly what they want will make you successful. After you’ve mastered that, you can anticipate what they’ll buy next. Then you’ll become wildly successful.
To be successful in business, you must provide what your customer wants. So why is it that I can specify with reasonable detail exactly what I want, and some people feel compelled to be creative and give me something different than what I asked for?
My karma bites me in my butt
When I first started developing sales materials as my business, I thought I knew better than my clients what they needed. They would tell me what they wanted and I would “improve” on it to give them something different and better. If they disagreed, I argued with them. And I lost clients. As I realized that I needed the money, it occurred to me that it was more important to make them happy than to do what I thought was right. (With clients, the right thing is to make them happy.)
Here’s what works…
First give your clients exactly what they ask for. Any discussion while they are specifying what they want should only be questions to clarify. Not challenges! If you feel moved to offer improvement, make a copy of the original in your computer, if appropriate, and add your changes to a new proposal. When you present your finished product, show them the one they expect to see first. Then mention that you had a few ideas and express your desire to discuss them. For example: On the brochures I was creating, I would type their headline on top and add a few of my own below. Sometimes they would see it my way and choose one of mine or we’d write a hybrid. When they said they wanted to keep theirs, I asked if they liked the typestyle and was it big enough, and then deleted my additions. No argument. I offered advice and direction, but I made sure that I was not a pain in the ass to work with.
How can you believe that someone is truly interested in helping you solve your problems if they won’t take the time to fully understand your problems first?
Then, a miracle occurs…
After about the third project, my client, who was too busy to explain what he wanted, said, “You know what to do, just bring back something that works.” Because of his previous experience with me, he knew that I would give him what he wanted. Now he could trust me to give him what he wanted on my own.
On the flip side, when my contractors deliver something other than what I asked for, I have to spend a lot of time re-explaining what I want. That gets old very fast. But how do you explain that to them? That’s not what you pay them for. Just call someone else and maybe they will follow directions. Smart employees and contractors would be well advised to ask, in advance, how much creative license they have in the execution of the request.
The plan and direction must be clear
Sometimes I know exactly what I want right down to the minute details. Sometimes I just have a few parameters or requests that I want complied with. For example, a recent mailing piece had to:
- Weigh less than one ounce to minimize postage
- Show a large color photograph of our product
- Include the table of contents
- Tell the JIAN story
The creative team had to do the rest. I usually ask for three variations to compel designers to take different approaches and to prevent them from proclaiming, “This is it.” I’d like to see three approaches and usually we combine the best of each.
Combine Top-Down with Bottom-Up
As the CEO or customer of my employees and contractors, I often don’t have time to explain why things should be done a certain way. I just know that certain things must be done a certain way and that’s what I ask for—without giving an explanation for it. If I had time to explain, I would, and I’d love to explain later perhaps over a beer. This, of course, is top down. Specifying design parameters with room for additions works well as long as the designers / employees happily comply with the original specs.
Let’s look at this from the bottom up. Regardless of what you are specifying, there are many details to consider and it’s important to include the input of many people, like those who do the manufacturing, selling, shipping, installing, and supporting. I expect this input to be considered in everything we do and I won’t object when someone points out that my desires must bend to the realities of delivering something that works.
If you are dealing with a boss, client or customer who thinks they know it all, hopefully, they will also expect, request and appreciate that this input is solicited. It’s your challenge to deliver it all within your and their expectations. Most of all, it’s important that your customer perceives that he or she is getting what he or she wants from you. You may be right, but your customer can go away. If you work for an employer, you may be right, but you risk being fired. The art is in maintaining the perception that you are delivering what they want.
Business Black Belt Notes
- Do not replace what your client/boss has requested with your “improved” version.
- Add your improved version behind the requested version.
- Ask for any parameters or ground rules for a project.
- Ask that your employee or contractor show you at least one version of plan or design that is exactly your way.
- Ask for three variations on a design.
- Give your customers what they want the way they want it.