Sunday, November 20, 2011

Where Are The Court Jesters?

We may look condescendingly back at the organizations of Middle Ages regarding things like efficiency and effectiveness, and the other desired traits of businesses today. Yet, the royal courts and their leaders  had one asset modern bureaucracies lack: the court jester.

Think of having a trusted lieutenant whose fun to be around, smart, critical, supportive, political (in a good way) and entertaining.  Like  a mash up of Robin Roberts, David Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld and Madonna at your beckon call.

While jesters entertained by joking, juggling, singing and dancing, they also made sure an outsider’s view was heard.  They knew what mattered on the street. Jesters courageously assessed and criticized leaders' behavior, offered contrarian views and kept egos in check.  They spoke truth to power.

As an insider with an outsider’s senses, Jesters created a balance of thought and action in what were highly authoritarian and fractured organizations.  They were change agents but not revolutionaries. They kept rulers in check for the benefit of ruled.

What company executive wouldn’t benefit from a court jester at her board meeting?  What about a few jesters dancing in the halls of US Capitol? Juggling at the White House? Singing in Brussels?

Where are the court jesters now that we need them?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Use Fresh Eyes To Assess Your Client

In the past several posts I’ve shared some tools to help assess your clients’ organizations. These allow you to expand your knowledge of the clients’ 3P’s  - Principles, People and Processes - and adjust what and how you deliver. This results in increased client retention, improved relationships and enhanced performance.

The Observational Survey is another tool in that will help you gather critical information.  This approach relies on your senses to develop valuable insights from the client’s environment.

Think about the first time you enter the client’s offices. What do you see, hear and feel? What ‘s on the walls? How are people talking to one another?  What does your client’s workspace look like? How are you treated?

Armed with this information you can make some judgments about the client’s 3P’s, the Principles, People and Processes, and make sure your work – whether it’s delivering a proposal or presenting a design concept – fits with how the client operates.

So, what to look for?

  • What is on the walls?  Is the client trying to tell its story?  
  • Are they creating a stimulating workplace?
  • Where do people work? Are there private offices? Collaborative spaces for people to gather?
  • How are you greeted when you arrived?  Did you feel welcome or in the way?
  • What did your client’s workspace look like? Well organized or messy? Filled with trinkets or pictures of family.
  • How are people’s dressed? Jeans or suits? All the same or diverse?
  • What about forms and other documents you receive from the client?  Are they clear or confusing? Do they communicate the brand?
  • How are meetings run? On time? Open or dominated by certain individuals. 

Based on what you observe, you can make some judgments that will impact your work. For example,

  • A work environment with few private offices and many collaborative spaces suggests that you’re dealing with flatter organization where power and decision-making is dispersed. This requires good relationships with all those who have a vote or influence.  Also you should develop and present your ideas in a way that addresses a wider audience.
  • A client’s no frills building with very little on the walls and sparse common areas is a clue that this organization is all about the bottom line. This could mean a cultural emphasis on efficiency and process.  In that case, keep presentations minimal and avoid creative that could be perceived as flashy or unnecessary.
  • An office that’s filled with doodads, mementos and other fun decorations could mean your client appreciates a more casual approach and likes to spend some time talking about the weekend’s parties before you get down to business.

The next time you visit the client’s office look around with fresh eyes. Jot a few notes about what you see and feel. Think about what the environment is telling you and how that impacts your work. What do you need to change or reinforce?