William James–a 19th century philosopher whose advocacy of free will and turning beliefs into action would make him a rock-star entrepreneurship blogger–asserted that “all our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” If we are all masses of habits, and none of us is perfect, that means some habits are good some are bad. Do you check email first thing every day? Buy a café latte at 11 every morning? Hit the gym after work? Buy a bag of White Castle sliders on the way home from the gym?
Whatever your habits, I suggest you add three new ones that will improve your sales, your business, and your life. If you already do the following routinely, then good for you. Do them some more.
1. Catch someone doing something right. When was the last time you noticed someone doing a great job and called a full timeout to recognize him or her?
Think about last week at work, or the last big project you worked on, or your last release of code. Was there a moment where someone on your team (or working for the client) went above and beyond? What happened? If your company is the norm, that person probably got a verbal “well done” and that was that.
We are all moving so fast that we miss opportunities to celebrate great performances. You can change that. Stand in the middle of the room and say, “Hey, full stop everybody. I’ve been reflecting on the project we delivered a couple of weeks ago, and I think we made a mistake. Not on the project. On recognizing Vanessa’s contributions. Vanessa did some incredible things, and I want to take a second and highlight a couple of them.”
Many companies swing between quick hallway back-pats and formal reviews where months-old acts of heroism are genericized into phrases like “takes initiative” and “follows through.” Publicly recognizing people when they do something right is a more powerful habit.
2. Distill the whiskey. All good whiskey goes through a distillation process that refines it and removes impurities. Drink undistilled whisky and you’ll choke.
You don’t want colleagues and customers choking on your communications. So instead of sending “raw” emails with all your thoughts on a subject (including detailed background, options you’ve rejected, and surmises of what may or may not happen), refine your message. Take out 70 percent of the content. Leave three clear points that the recipient must grasp.
For example, we routinely send email with links to articles, assuming the recipient–say a sales prospect–has time to read them. How much better to include this note: “Christy, I saw this article and it reminded me of our last conversation. I know you are super busy, so if you don’t have time to read through it, here are the points that I think will resonate with you.”
One reason we pour so much content into our communications is that we can. There exists no Twitter-like mechanism that warns, “You’ve reached the maximum allowable bullshit limit. Before writing another word you must excise at least three paragraphs’ worth of unnecessary verbiage.” So make a habit of self-discipline. Although if anyone develops that Twitter-thing, I can probably sell it.
3. Write old-fashioned thank-you notes. I’ll bet you are already in the habit of sending thank-you emails after high-stakes meetings. That’s a good habit. Here’s a better one. Take time to compose a handwritten thank-you note and pop it in the mail. Email is too easy and common. There’s no cost to you: you don’t have to hunt around for paper, an envelope, and a stamp or to look up a street address. Consequently, emails barely register.
Not every interaction warrants a handwritten thank you. But those in which decisions are made, progress can be measured, or people work very hard, often do. I routinely get phone calls and emails from executives thanking me for my thank-you note! It has an impact. And making an impact is a great habit.