I’m sharing with you a speech I’m making to MYOB clients at a conference at Alice Springs. The attendees will be bookkeepers and accountants and I want to help them take their businesses to the next level. That said, 25 years of speaking to business audiences has taught me that you really have to provoke people if you want to get them to change.
There are many reasons why people can’t or won’t change but US comedian Jerry Seinfeld summed it up neatly when he looked at how men are biologically programmed to build big things — roads, buildings, bridges etc. — but why don’t they do it? “It’s very, very hard!” Jerry explains.
Over the years I’d tell my audiences that there are two aspects to making your business better — one is external while the other is internal.
A good business owner can’t control the economy and what the cowards and mad men and women in Canberra and the state capitals do. These are all external issues but I try to at least alert them to what threats or opportunities are coming down the economic and political pipeline. Forewarned means you can be forearmed.
However, my real work on the audience is always focused on the internal stuff that business owners, managers and key employees can do to get the best out of themselves and their business, and this is where the change bogeyman comes into play.
I guess as I got older I realized that I had ‘entertained the troops’ for an hour at these conferences but I pondered how many of them actually embraced change and took my advice.
So a few years ago I actually invited attendees to email me at email@example.com if they wanted me to contact them whenever I came across some innovation or insight that impressed and had me thinking about doing business differently.
I wanted to show them that I care beyond the hour the conference organizer had given us.
Since that little innovation we have around 2,000 people who are up for change and have put themselves on Switzer’s List. By the way, if you, as a reader, want to join this group of changers, you can email me to at firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject slug — CHANGE.
So, how do I provoke my audience members to sign up for change?
Historically I have looked at the greats of business and underlined how their abnormal ways or habits explained their success.
Richard Branson always tried to beat up on monopolies and oligopolies, like airlines and record companies, which exploited consumers. By introducing price competition he made an emotional connection with his potential customer base but the standout characteristic of Branson was a 24/7 commitment to his business, which was all about his customers. Sure, he did other stuff such as fly around the world in a balloon but this was also about building the Virgin brand and connecting emotionally.
Steve Jobs at Apple had a fanatical commitment to what consumers wanted and vehemently opposed second-rate performances from his team and his business.
Edward de Bono created his competitive advantage by explaining how successful people think outside the square and that gives them an edge over their rivals. His establishment of a reputation as one of the greatest business thinkers of all time shows how he used lateral thinking to create his own enduring brand.
But he did more with what he did. When I interviewed him he changed me forever! I think a lot of my success has come because he won me over in effectively asked me what was I doing daily to develop my competitive advantage?
I always thought these lessons, if piled on top of the great strategies from the likes of chef Neil Perry, who had a mentor and Dr. Fiona Wood, who cited “giants” in her life who gave her competitive advantage, would encourage my audience members to change.
And while I know there were many who did get inspired by these stories of business greatness, others I’m sure went back to work the next week and resumed who they were. Change, as Jerry has told us is often just “too hard.”
As a consequence, my thinking outside the square has seen me introduce the thinking of the likes of Anthony Robbins and Simon Sinek to encourage my audience members to get serious about change.
Robbins, who is famous for his worldwide tours as a life-coach, encourages his followers to walk across hot coals, and is also an advocate for telling his troubled and life/business challenged followers to change their story.
If something in your past is continually holding you back then change the story, he advises. It’s no use blaming others for failures in your life, even if others have done stuff to rattle you, and so his advice is simple — identify what is your negative story and stop wasting time — change it!
Robbins documentary film about one of his confronting weekends called “I Am Not Your Guru” is worth a watch for anyone struggling with a nagging piece of personal history that keeps coming back to haunt you.
Another new star in my presentation meant to help people change is top Ted Talk speaker Simon Sinek, who looks at why we buy things and follow people, get addicted to brands and effectively change our ways.
He argues most businesses advertise what their goods or services do and this is controlled by the neo-cortex part of the brain. And while a small number of human beings might make big life and buying decisions on hard cold facts, most of us use the limbic part of the brain, which is where our emotional decisions are made.
He says science shows this is the biggest driver of what we decide to do and explains why you’ve heard some people say: “I know the facts and figures point to this but my gut tells me something different.”
Sinek’s argument is people don’t buy what you do but why you do it. He also insists that employees don’t follow bosses fanatically for what they do but why they do it.
Who would you rather work for — Richard Branson or a mafia boss?
As I’m in the selling business — getting audiences, readers, listeners, viewers and my financial planning clients to buy into better business practices and/or smarter wealth-building strategies, I need to know what works best to win friends and influence people.
I’ve learnt over the years that people think I have insights that will help them but my competitive advantage is so clearly that people trust me. That’s why our financial group’s motto is “Guidance you can trust.”
I love what I do but I couldn’t work the crazy hours and continually play, what we call, radio Russian roulette answering people questions on my On the Money program and doing live TV looking for great stocks to invest in unless I thought I was helping others.
That’s why I do what I do. Sure, my business benefits but that’s just a nice reward for doing what I love. And I suspect the people who come to my business, websites and media programs and invest in my Switzer Dividend Growth Fund do so because of why I do it.
In financial planning we always start by asking our would-be clients about their goals? This ensures that we really know what is emotionally important to the people we will work with over the years to make their material life and then their social life as fulfilling as possible.
Today I will ask my audience what do they want from their business? And then I will ask what are they doing to make it happen?
This is the same question these bookkeeper and accountants should also ask their business clients. Ultimately, they might think their clients want their books done as accurately as possible, but this is nearly a given with the people I will be talking to, however what will weld these people to their clients forever?
The answer is simple — it’s being so damn emotionally supportive of the business owner in company with their great skillset, which will mean they can be customers forever.
A friend of mine nearly sacked his accountant because the old relationship, which was based on a professional CPA, who always went the extra mile, had over time been so good that he had grown his business. However, he failed to train his staff to be as good as him!
My friend called for a meeting with his longstanding accountant who knew his number might be up. He came virtually with a tear in his eye to the boardroom meeting and my friend just couldn’t do it. His neo-cortex said sack him because of his robotic staff who made no emotional connections but his limbic part of his brain couldn’t do it.
The bond created, not because of what he had done in the past but why he had done it, was hard to break and the accountant was given another chance provided he looks after my friend’s accounts and relationship!
My concluding message to my audience today will be: “Mind your own business.” Your business is not adding up numbers and preparing tax returns but minding the business of your clients and in doing that you will be minding your own business as well.
The same lesson has to be learnt by everyone in business and for that matter everyone in relationships. We are attracted to people not for what they actually do, which can be satisfying, but we hang in there and really love them for why they do it!