Imagine that you’re preparing an important presentation that you have the next day for a key client your company deals with. You’re doing the best you can to gather and construct your ideas. You may think of some of the best techniques you can use in the presentation to get your message across. You might work on a story to hook your clients to your key messages or appeal.
The next day you’re waiting in the meeting room at your client’s office. You’re having all kinds of thoughts. When the decision-makers arrive, you have a brief conversation with them before beginning the presentation. You are nervous and yet all pumped up at the same time. You start with the presentation, and everything’s going perfectly well. You are almost about to wrap up when your client stops you and asks, “Great presentation! Your service is interesting too – but what’s in it for us? How can we grow with the help of your proposed plan?” Then you realize how you never gave that aspect a proper thought to begin with. From here on, you know that what you will say to answer that question will only be tweaked ideas of what you want your client to do for you. Will this guarantee that you will seal the deal? Well, nobody knows.
What do you think is happening here? What went wrong? I think you’ve started guessing what I am trying to arrive at. Yes, the individual was operating with a self-focused mindset, and the example I shared above discusses just one aspect. One might ask ‘how,’ so let’s explore that question. They missed out on one significant factor that would have helped them better serve their clients–considering their needs, objectives, and challenges (The Arbinger Institute, 2010). We might not necessarily see the people we work with as obstacles to overcome or irrelevancies to ignore. Still, when we focus only on our goals and what we need from a particular partnership, we have already started operating from a self-focused mindset. We start seeing them as vehicles to further our objectives and needs rather than strategic partners to work with and achieve shared goals.
What does it mean to have a self-focused mindset toward clients?
As employees, managers, and consultants, we need to realize that our relationship with our clients can be strong when we help them identify what they need and how to help them fulfill it. If we begin to believe that we have to take care of ourselves first, only then will we pay attention to the needs and objectives of our clients; they will most definitely sense this sooner or later. Such an approach will not help us invite long-term partners for our brand. If we’re only looking to make our business case, get the deal, and close it, we’re serving neither ourselves nor our clients.
With a self-focused mindset, we only see what we need from a particular client. While in a business sense, this isn’t entirely wrong, one might say. But who do you think will be disadvantaged the most because of such an approach? You’re thinking right. We will be affected the most and our company will suffer. If we’re blind to what our clients need and look for, they will eventually feel worn out in such a relationship and look for other organizations to work and co-create value with. We might still not choose to see this reality. We might not say it out loud, but we consider our clients blameworthy for the deal's failure and, eventually, the strained relationship. The next thing we know – because of our client’s word of mouth, we may not even get other clients to work with us readily. Therefore, when we think only about our goals, needs, and objectives, we compromise our organization’s results while considering ourselves competent and our clients inconsiderate or nagging.
Making our business case with an impact-focused mindset
When we say it’s essential to understand what our clients need, it doesn’t imply that our needs do not matter – of course, they do. But we should find the means and medium to align our needs with our client’s needs and build strategies and actionable principles to achieve them together. We can do that by operating with an impact-focused mindset—to collaborate, not to outsmart our clients and persuade them to pursue our services. What we focus on is – channelizing efforts to attain collective results.
Most individuals and organizations must assess if their organizational culture and systemic approach toward their clients are pervasively self-focused. They could be focusing only on their tasks, goals, and growth without considering how their actions could impact the outcomes of their colleagues, subordinates, supervisors, and clients. However, when individuals and organizations develop an impact-focused mindset, it makes the organizational climate more positive – to eventually help in building positive interpersonal relationships with clients. With an impact-focused perspective, individuals and organizations start focusing on collective results (The Arbinger Institute, n.d.). They start understanding that what they do as an organization impacts what their clients do.
When we have an impact-focused mindset, our clients become valuable to us, and we want to direct our actions toward helping them to all our ability. We then make reasonable efforts to help them achieve better outcomes– so they have to make less effort to correct things themselves. Rather than blaming our clients for being inconsiderate and incompetent, with an impact-focused mindset, we work around solutions to the problems in our clients’ organizations. We work toward making them our allies.
How can we make the shift toward an impact-focused mindset?
An impact-focused mindset can help us see our clients as people. So how can we make the shift to it? Knowing our clients’ needs, objectives, and challenges is a great place to start. Asking ourselves a few questions can be helpful in that regard. What is it that our clients need? What do they want to achieve for themselves? What strategies do they work with? What is their organizational philosophy? What challenges are they encountering in achieving what they want? What problems exist in their systems? What’s preventing them from becoming the best at what they do? When we’re genuinely interested to know about our clients in these very aspects through open and honest conversations (that aren’t too invading), there are good chances that we can identify areas where we can add value. When we make our business case, we can tap into the places where the clients might need a strategic partnership and propose how they can benefit from having us on board.
An aspect we should keep in mind that can help us humanize our interpersonal relationships with our clients is that ‘we need them, just as much as they need us.’ As individuals and organizations, we can’t work in isolation; we need to have strategic partners, we need to have allies, and we need to collaborate if we are to achieve collective results. So, as much as we would want our clients to understand and consider our proposal, we must not give them a perception that working with us will be bad for their organizational integrity.
Finally, it’s essential to understand that even if we might change our ways to become impact-focused, we shouldn’t expect our clients to change along with us. A primary principle of an impact-focused mindset is changing our patterns for good rather than trying to ‘fix’ or ‘correct’ other people. If we give our clients a sense that we’re right and know what’s best for them, they will most likely resist having a professional relationship with us. At this point, it helps to recall what the founder of Arbinger Institute, Terry Warner, said, “We most effectively influence one another to change by letting ourselves be changed.” If we keep this perception in mind while considering our client's needs, objectives, and challenges, they might see us as an understanding organization. Even if they don’t, we won’t blame them for not accepting our offer. We know we will have tried.
The Arbinger Institute. (2010). Leadership and self-deception: Getting out of the box (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
The Arbinger Institute. (n.d.). What is an outward mindset? The Arbinger Institute. https://arbinger.com/blog/what-is-an-outward-mindset/