Communications and making connections goes a long way. Everyone has an Aunt Martha. She remembers birthdays, sends unique gifts, has the nicest handwriting, and is the sweetest lady you’ll ever meet. Those personal touches are foreign in today’s world, but Aunt Marthas are still around. They are an enigma and a national treasure. Eventually, the cards stop coming though.
Organizations and people don’t live forever, but their thoughtfulness does.
Their gratitude, kind sentiments, and efforts are never forgotten, even when the ink on the paper fades. We live in a fast-paced society where we’re “crazy busy” because we’re too consumed to make time to get to know who we’re working with — our clients. Clients appreciate it though. They notice when an agency, lawyer, or teacher takes the time to get to know them. So, sometimes, we need to take a moment to make it more than a business deal and get personal. That’s how you really build a strong brand.
Consumption of information, constant connectivity, and materialism distract us from what’s going on around us and the people who need and want to hear from us. React now. Think later. I work in marketing, where we have automated emails, reports, and social media. The other day I got a tweet from someone I know through networking. The tweet thanked me and Screaming Frog for the most engagement, when I must admit that I engage very little with that person. It threw me for a loop. How does that automated tweet add value to our interactions? It doesn’t. Machines take over to simplify things, which isn’t a bad thing, but this can remove personalization.
Maybe we should do it differently to build better partners and relationships. Make time to stop and pick up the phone for a call. Phone calls and meeting in person build a stronger rapport than firing off emails. Make time to send a message. Make time to write and send a real card. Because of tech conveniences, we are together, but alone, according to Sherry Turkle’s poignant TEDTalk. Show up and burn brightly when you’re with people rather than being absent because your mind and hands (you know that darn phone glued to your hands…) are elsewhere, thinking about the next meeting, project, thing you need to mark off your to do list, or just something you feel the need to “check.”
Last week, I read a blog on LinkedIn, entitled “Leadership Lessons from The Valley: I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know,” in which Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, reflects back on lessons from mistakes. If you don’t have time to read that post, the four lessons are: Leaders listen, care, inspire, and work.
That’s personalization in leadership and we should do it in both personal and professional relationships. I write real cards — cards you can hold in your hands — and have a card box where I collect cards I come across on my travels, in local shops, and other ventures. I have friends who do the same sort of things with me. When I was in grad school, I did some consulting work for a startup and they sent personal acknowledgements and swag to each user who continued to engage with the product. I couldn’t believe that they did that, but it built the brand and the users appreciated it. “The effort is what matters when you’re trying to build a personal brand!” as Gary Vaynurchuk says.
And, like my Aunt Martha, I rarely forget someone’s birthday, even if that means I have to tweet, text, or send a message online, using the channel that engages with them the most. Be aware that trying to use pigeon post or a Harry Potter owl does not always work. There are so many ways to connect. Even though people don’t always reciprocate, they appreciate it. My sister says to me, “You’re the new Aunt Martha.” If only I could be.
These sentiments are applicable to anything in life, especially at work. We need to remember massive to-dos to keep track of things on Evernote, in project management softwares, and on scraps of paper, while we multi-task with an array of projects and many deadlines looming before us. But work is best achieved when we understand “why” we’re doing it, we understand our clients’ needs, and we grow to understand our coworkers or employees’ interests. Some of the greatest ideas and solutions surface when we identify a need and a problem. We must get inside our users’ heads, create personas, and research the target demographics for our brand to offer valuable solutions. There are nuances and elements to be aware of and remember, just like Aunt Martha would. Work hard, but be kind, as is a good friend’s motto.
At the end of most days, I reflect back on what my day was like. I make a list…sometimes it’s my “list of good” things that happened, things I’m grateful for, things I accomplished, things I am proud of, or things I want to add to my “list of things to do” in life. Recently, someone told me that was “such a girl thing to do,” but why isn’t that something everyone should do? My team actually wants feedback from clients about what they like and dislike about our performance. This may make some people uncomfortable, but we have to think beyond the now so that we can grow. I believe in being a visionary and thinking big for the things we can achieve and do with our lives, but I also believe in the small moments.
Make it happen. Say thank you. Think Big. It matters more than you think.
Don’t ever lose sight of the small moments and don’t be afraid to disconnect so that you can make a real connection. And don’t lose sight of the value of being like your Great Aunt Martha. The wisdom and legacy of thoughtfulness is worth more than you can possibly imagine.