By David Friedman, Founder/CEO
The other day I received a birthday card in the mail. It had no personal note in it, but did have the business card of the person sending it. He’s a mortgage lender who secured construction financing for us 12 years ago when we were building our house. I haven’t spoken to him or heard from him since that loan, other than an annual birthday or holiday card with his business card (and sometimes a list of the awards he’s won).
Here’s the ironic thing: he likely thinks he’s keeping in touch with me and increasing the chances that I think of him first when I next need a loan. And yet, he’s actually doing the opposite. In fact, every time I get one of his cards, I get more annoyed at the self-serving nature of his reach out and the total lack of effort he makes to cultivate a personal connection. Let me explain.
Practice the “Human Touch”
One of the Fundamentals I taught in my first company, and have carried over to High Performing Culture, is called “Practice the Human Touch.” This Fundamental is about looking for and acting upon opportunities to show people that you care about them as individuals and not simply as transactions.
It’s remembering their favorite team or their spouse’s name or where their kids are going to school. It’s sending them an article that you thought they might find interesting because of something they once told you. It’s calling or sending a personal note when you know their father was having surgery or remembering where they went on their latest vacation.
In a world that’s become increasingly automated, we have fewer and fewer personal relationships in business. We leave voicemails, send emails and texts, use automated attendants, make purchases through self-service, and even get our answers from posted FAQs or automated chat tools or “bots.” And most of this creates greater efficiency and sometimes even better service. But what gets lost are the personal connections on which most of us thrive.
Technology can help
Interestingly enough, technology can actually help us to create deeper personal connections – if used properly. Facebook and LinkedIn both automatically remind you about birthdays and work anniversaries for your contacts. But simply sending a message that says, “Congratulations on your work anniversary,” especially to someone you hardly know, has no positive impact. Rather, the reminder is a useful prompt to call or send a personal note that includes something unique to that contact.
A few weeks ago, I was playing golf and one of the members of my foursome mentioned that his wife was having some serious surgery the following week. I made a mental note of that fact, created a reminder for myself in my task management system, and reached out the day after the surgery to find out how it went and to let the person know I was thinking of him and his family. Technology helped me to remember and act upon this opportunity.
Make sure it’s about them and not you
It’s important to note that for the connection to be meaningful, it has to be about showing care for the other person and not be self-serving. The loan officer who enclosed his business card and all his accolades in every greeting is demonstrating that he only cares about promoting himself. And once again, the ironic thing is that he’d be more successful promoting himself if he stopped promoting and instead showed more (or any!) genuine interest in me and what’s happening in my life.
As long as I’m on my soapbox about this, let me throw out one more suggestion. Holiday cards with pre-addressed labels, printed names, and no personal note whatsoever do more harm than good. They make the recipient feel like an item to be checked off a list. If you’re going to send it, take the time to write something personal to each recipient, to show them that you’re truly thinking about them.
This Fundamental is a great example of the kind of thing most people don’t typically think about. Their weakness is more a lack of awareness than it is a lack of caring. And it demonstrates the value of talking about our Fundamentals week after week. When we focus on a Fundamental all week through a variety of rituals, it gives us a chance to think more deeply about it, and to see how it can more readily be incorporated into the way we do things. And it’s through that consistent practice that you ultimately build the culture you want.