Interviewing Influencers: Connecting the Dots With Mike NealFebruary 24, 2015 | By Kevin Cray
You may have more connections than you think you do. This is what Mike Neal and his team learned after a 2-day coaching session with Wayne. Out-of-the-box thinking and keeping an eye out for insights hiding in plain sight can give you entry into critical new business connections.
Today on Interviewing Influencers, we talked with Mike Neal about connecting the dots to create stronger relationships with new industries you want to be involved with.
Terri Hoffman: What got you interested in connecting with Wayne and his approach to strategic planning? And how did it impact your team and your approach to building revenue?
Mike Neal: I had known of Wayne since we both worked within the same national contracting firm for many years, although we didn’t interface because we were in different parts of the country. A mutual friend of ours told me that Wayne was in a consultancy. I started looking at his website and seeing what kinds of things he was involved in.
We were heading into a 2015 strategic plan meeting which we’d done every year for the last five or six years and I reached out to Wayne and spoke with him about it. He said, “I’m not really a strategic planning guy I’m more of a coach. I have very outside-of-the-box ideas about how to do things.” We got to talking and I liked what he was all about.
He completely changed my mind in that conversation. I decided not to do a strategic plan that year. But, we are in a very competitive business and part of our strategy is to diversify our business both geographically and by market sector. In listening to Wayne, it occurred to me that he might be able to coach the people on my senior team in strategies and techniques that would, to use his words, “start a conversation” with a client in a sector that we’re not involved in. And coach us in how to convince these clients that we might be a better choice and offer more value than some of the guys who, by virtue of their portfolio, may look like they have more experience.
What I was pretty impressed with is that Wayne showed a great deal of interest in doing this right. He took the time to fly down here on his own nickel on at least two occasions prior to us working together in order to interview me and my team and to understand what we are all about. He really listened. That actually endeared him to me more, and proved to me that this guy was the real deal.
Then we had a very interesting 2-day meeting with him where he made everyone completely uncomfortable. He pissed us all off – but in a very good way. If you are not uncomfortable then you are not being challenged. He made everyone think, dig deep, get into a part of their psyche where they couldn’t understand. We just hadn’t exercised some of those muscles for a while.
The meeting was about two weeks ago now, and we are using what we call “Wayne-isms.” Little things that are popping up in our conversation lead me to believe my guys are thinking differently about our strategy as we go after new work.
TH: Was there something in particular that was different in your market or in your business in the way you were connecting with your clients that led you to taking a different approach? Or do you think it was just as simple as the timing of getting reconnected with Wayne?
MN: I can’t honestly say it was a reconnection, because I may have met him once as our paths crossed at some corporate event of our former employer. Our firm is quite young, we are just ten years old this year. We have grown very rapidly and have a great reputation but we are quite limited in the markets we serve. We are a very large condominium builder, very large in the hospitality arena, very large in the multi-family arena and a few other more limited sectors. As CEO, I can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again. It is a very cyclical economy. Five years from now all three of those sectors may be dead.
I’ve got to look down the road about ten years and say, What legacy am I going to leave behind under my leadership? I need to make sure we are taking affirmative steps to position ourselves to be a healthy company that can sustain the ups and downs of the economy and leave a little bigger footprint than we have today. Wayne’s perspective on that will perpetually impact that movement into new sectors.
TH: How do you see this impacting your company? What are your expectations as you move forward to executing in your teams now?
MN: I think the honest answer is, as good as the session was, your typical strategic planning meeting is 2 days of thinking – then you have 363 days of either choosing to honor the commitments that you made (like a New Year’s resolution). If we don’t honor the commitment that we made and remain steadfast and dedicated to really pushing to diversify, none of it has any meaning.
I think Wayne did a better job than other consultants we’ve hired. I can’t put my arms around what it was but there was something different in what he did and how. I think he’s made an art form out of making people feel awkward and uncomfortable. And I think he enjoys that. He knows he’s not creating discomfort on purpose, but that his methods will lead to the longer memory of what he is trying to get across.
I guess my expectation is because of that maybe our memory will be longer and we will have carried the momentum we need to execute our plan. Wayne’s not doing the work for us, we’ve got to do the work.
TH: In two full days, there was a lot of information. Was there something that resonated with everyone or you in particular? Is there anything that stands out to you individually or to your team collectively? Like “Wow, that concept really rang true for us,” or “That’s something that we could integrate into our behavior going forward.”
MN: I think there was. He used the phrase, “There are things that are hiding in plain sight.” We did some brainstorming and he was trying to show us how he connects relationship dots. Like “Hey, I know this guy, and this guy is a player in this sector.” We started connecting dots in the sectors we wanted to be in probably with the assumption that we don’t know anybody, we don’t know any navigators or champions (Wayne’s words) and we found we had a hugely long list of navigators and champions in educational sectors and healthcare sectors which are two of the key markets we want to try to crack into. That information was, to use Wayne’s words again, hiding in plain sight.
We had never really sat down to use his connect-the-dot process to come up with a pursuit plan for a project or for a client. We could do that in the sectors that we are in probably to a higher level. We were thinking, we have a lot more stuff than we thought we had and maybe, just maybe, it felt like we were a little closer to where we wanted to be than where we actually were.