Conversations and boardroom warriors

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I was going through some video at the weekend from some of the programs I have been running lately. There are times when it feels like what I am doing is quite complicated. If you have worked with me you know I have an armoury of stories, experiences (both mine and my clients), metaphors and business models.


Yet at the heart of my work lies absolute simplicity. Every bit of this content points at four things that will give you the results you require to achieve you want. I just keep using different ways of helping you access the shifts in performance that you need. Sometimes this takes one conversation but more often than not it is the result of working together over a period of time, when some of the mud I fling at you begins to stick.


This isn’t about improving performance of your business as it is today. Its about accessing levels of performance that you currently can’t see, let alone access from how you see the world today


This requires that these four things happen to you:

  • You see all the hidden gold nuggets in your business and the fullest potential that it has
  • You re-organise yourself around a set of habitual disciplines that enable you to effortlessly get things done
  • You discover the ability to connect with prospects, customers, suppliers and your team in ways that create new levels of sales, margin and performance
  • You experience self awareness at a level that allows you to do the ‘impossible’ and deal with whatever shows up


A few weeks ago I was planning my first online training program. This involved setting an order of priority for the order in which I would release modules. In order to decide the sequence I tried to answer this question:


If you were only allowed to improve one skill in your clients teams at a time what would you go for first?


It needs to be a killer app. Something that improves everyone’s performance, from the warehouse to the boardroom, and that that has the potential to make the biggest impact on the bottom line with the least effort input.


The answer was simple: CONVERSATION. More specifically, commercial conversation.


I am not talking about the sound bite, low depth/breadth chatter that society increasingly seems happy to pass off as communication. Anyone can engage in that with even the most primitive of communication skills.


No, I mean the broad and roaming conversations that surface opportunities or cut through to the heart of challenges. The conversations that create and strengthen commercial relationships with customers, suppliers and within your team. The conversations that often get avoided, deferred to email, procrastinated or just set about in a half arsed manner.

My theory is that the key to accessing every business opportunity and resolving any challenge lies in conversations, even when it doesn’t look that way….


I spent a few years working for a large international branded drinks business. The CEO (John) of the business would invite five of his management team to have lunch with him each month. John was a classic 80’s company director and a true boardroom warrior. There was only one requirement and that was that if you were selected you had to have a good question to ask him (presumably to go unarmed with a zinger of a question was career limiting at best). I got to go along to.


I can’t, for the life of me, remember the question I asked. However, I do recall an interesting exchange he had with someone from the Legal Department. The question was about brand counterfeiting. At the time we were in legal proceedings against a number of the big supermarket chains over the use of labelling and packaging on own label products that was very, very similar to our brands look and feel. The question asked was how he thought this issue would eventually get resolved.  


John recalled a round of golf he had recently had with Archie, the CEO of one of the companies in dispute with us. Archie said to him “so John when are you going to call off the dogs with this whole brand thing?”. John calmly replied “Just as soon as you stop ripping off my brands Archie”.


At the time I remember just thinking how cool this conversation sounded. But when I became a Business coach this story took on a more significant meaning. It taught me that even when a problem looks like something legal, ultimately it will be resolved when two people have a meaningful conversation.


With any challenge breakthroughs come as the result of conversations with those involved and affected. The same is true of opportunities. The next big breakthrough in your business is just a conversation away.


Conversations have the power to create massive result shifts. Whatever is working or not working in your business, ultimately will be as a direct consequence of the volume and quality of conversations that your business team is, or isn’t, participating in.


So here’s a list of three things (and a bonus challenge if you have the courage for it)


Target – Draw up a list of the conversations that you, and your teams, should be having but aren’t. Create a hit list of key calls and set this as a task for everyone. MAKE THE CALLS!!! The goal should be that no one has any ‘avoided’ or procrastinated conversation in the bag by the end of March.


Tell Sell or Discuss – Before you go into an important conversation stop write down the goals and outcomes of the conversation. Is the goal to give instructions (Tell), influence the person (Sell) or to have an exchange of ideas (Discuss). Tailor your approach and language to match the outcome you want. At the start of the meeting set out the goals and aims with the other participant(s).


Notice – When you have an important conversation stop afterwards and make a few notes. Reflect on how well the conversation went. Did you achieve all of the outcomes that you wanted? What was your talk and listen ratio? What subjects and styles of conversation were you comfortable with and when did you feel anxious, uncomfortable or evade the point you really wanted to deal with? What patterns do you see that might hold the key to how to improve the breadth, depth and outcomes of your conversations (if you are in sales you should be doing this, every time you have a sales conversation, without exception. How else do you expect to improve?).


Bonus for the brave – Make the big call. Who is someone you’d really like to connect with; a game changer for you. Perhaps it’s a major prospect, a historic client or simply someone you look up to. Track them down and reach out for a conversation with them. What is the worst that could happen?


I’m going to be running my first ever online program beginning in April and it is going to be all about ‘Engaging customer conversations’. Its something you should be putting all of your team through (I’m delivering a summary of this content to a team of Relationship Managers at HSBC this week), but particularly those who interact regularly with customers.


Oh and do me a favour. Pencil out Wednesday 21st June in your diary and stand by for an announcement next week.


See you soon.