I never work with companies. Ever.
Yes, I’ve written and directed professionally for more than 25 years.
Yes, I’ve served as a creative leader in the worlds of branding, marketing strategy, advertising, and entertainment development for 15 plus years.
And yet, I never work with companies; I work with people.
Now, if that strikes you as just fancy wordplay, then YOU are the very person I’ve written this for. Because if we lose sight of this essential fact, then we’ve missed a lot.
Here’s what I mean…
People > Everything Else
When I sit down to speak with a prospective Client, I’m not primarily there to sell them on me or my company. Instead, I’m looking for their challenges, their pain points, places where they’re mired and can’t see it or can see it, but can’t see a way out.
Here’s the formula: take their needs, then overlay your unique set of skills and experiences. Where there’s overlap, that’s where there might be a fit — and ‘fit’ is all I care about.
It all starts with listening with the intent to understand. To borrow from the late Dr. Stephen Covey…
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”– Dr. Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
And you can reap the benefits of this approach no matter your station in life…
If You’re Starting Out
Early on, you’re going to bring more enthusiasm and energy to the table than experience (and that’s okay). But when applying for a job, you can set yourself apart by asking specific questions about that company’s current needs and short-term goals. Reframe the interview as a joint investigation between you and your interviewer to discover if you’re a fit for their team, keeping in mind that ‘no’ is a possible and legitimate answer.
If You’re Moving Up
You’re not just looking for any opportunity to climb the ladder – you’re looking for the right opportunity. Listen for the needs, then look for the fit. And remember that sometimes the need will exist before an official ask is made, so don’t wait for the ask. Instead, be proactive. I can tell you from experience, this can work. When I served at a large international ad agency, I saw a HUGE need, so I bet on me and pitched my idea off-and-on for two years. In the end, the company created a new division that I got to help lead, my title sprung way forward, and my salary bumped up by 40%.
If You’re Changing Gears
You have a killer idea and that’s great – we need more of those. But before printing up your new business cards, listen… to the market. What is the unmet or under-served need that your product or service is going to fill? Have you talked to the type of folks who would be your buyers? Listen for the needs, then look for the fit. Changes to your business strategy will never be cheaper to make than right now.
For Seasoned Pros
You’re in charge, you’re casting the vision. Good start. But what does your team need to make it happen? Where are they feeling a gap in talent or resources or bandwidth? Where is there resistance due to them not seeing the path from here to there? Where are there legitimate concerns than just can’t be overcome with your encouragement and enthusiasm alone? Listen for the needs, then look for the fit – the smart way to align resources with milestones.
Does this really work? To answer that question, let’s think about it this way – flip it around and imagine a person who is actively applying themselves to solve your challenges AND is good at what they do. Do you want to work with that person? Probably yeah. Probably a LOT.
Consider this approach — listening for needs, then looking for the fit – as Strategic Empathy.
Because in the end, you’re not just talking to a COO or hiring manager or prospective Client or potential intern – you’re talking to a person with their own personal and professional goals and dreams and challenges… A fellow human being who has a mortgage, a car payment, worries and fears – someone with people depending on them.
So if you’re looking for a one-off gig, then go ahead – sell them on how awesome you are.
But if you’re looking for a long-term Client or Employer or Employee, then listen closely, ask hard questions, and look for that fit.
Why Are You Here?
You’re here to help people – we’re here to help people. And if you get good at helping people solve their problems, then you’ll flourish as well. Scale it up as big as you want – quarterly key performance indicators, yearly goals, projects with millions of dollars in play – the same principle still applies.
It’s not about you, it’s about them.
It’s not about your skills, it’s about their challenges.
It’s not about a company, it’s about people.
Consistently create wins for others and watch your own success grow exponentially.
– Matthew Porter