A Banker’s How-Tos for Success

I came across and article on a book by James Runde called Unequaled. My guess is the title means that for you to be the average associate/peer, you need to follow these rules. The steps to follow all center around politics and social proof. It’s not that different from a recent other HBR article I read from some professor at Fuqua. (I’ll find it a post a link another time).

Anyhow, here’s the link and verbatim, the 6 rules:

1. Grab a cup of coffee with your boss every three months. 

You don’t have to literally drink coffee with your boss, but you do have to meet with him or her regularly. Runde calls this an “every 90-day thing for 12 minutes, not an hour-long meeting, but it’s not a drive-by, either.” Here’s how you set up this meeting: You send an email to your boss, asking if you can have 15 minutes of his or her time. And here’s what you do during the meeting: You start out enthusiastically, saying how happy you are to be on your boss’s team. “It’s not a kvetching session,” says Runde. Then, you tell your boss about the past 90 days. You talk about what your top three priorities have been and the progress you’ve been making. After that, you lay out your top three priorities for the next three months and ask your boss, “Is this what you want me to be focusing on?” Then, says Runde, “You shut up.” Which means you listen to what your boss has to say and don’t interrupt.

These meetings, says Runde, will go a long a way to preventing you from wasting your time on work that’s inessential to your boss’s and your company’s goals. 

Other forms of this I’ve heard, especially from consultants, are to schedule a lunch meeting with someone each day.

2. You’ll never regret networking. But you will regret not networking. 

“If you go to an old folks’ home,” says Runde, “and talk to people in their eighties and nineties, they’ll never tell you they regret taking risks. They’ll only tell you they regret NOT taking more risks.” That said, Runde is a HUGE believer in networking. His book can be read like one big endorsement of the value of networking. And he says most people he’s worked with who don’t network as much as they should give all sorts of lame excuses for why they don’t. Runde says that they’re basically just fearful, that they don’t have the courage to network. But they really have nothing to fear. According to Runde, “The worst thing that can happen when you network is someone thinks you’re being political. So what. The positives significantly outweigh the negatives.” He also says networking is a lot like going to the gym. “People know they should do it more, but they don’t, and they’ll give you every excuse they can think of why they don’t do it more often.”

As for why networking is so important, Runde notes that through your network you’ll hear about new job opportunities and thus advance your career. You won’t be hearing about those opportunities through coworkers or friends. Runde writes, “Some of the best tips I have ever received have come from acquaintances in my network rather than those people with whom I was close.”

This is almost a cliche now: “fail early, and fail fast,” “silence has never protected me,” YOLO, etc..

3. Mentors are good. But sponsors are better. 

Runde calls mentors “Secret Santas,” because “nobody knows who your mentors are.” Mentors are people you can talk to and go to for advice. Sponsors, on the other hand, are “people who talk about you when you’re not around.” They’re the people who’ll be speaking on your behalf when it comes time to determine if you’ll get promoted or not. To that end, it’s important to keep in mind that you won’t be in the meeting to talk about your potential promotion, and your mentors won’t be there, either. And so, you need to have a sponsor in there or you won’t be getting that promotion. 

That said, “It is a big task to find someone willing to be your sponsor,” writes Runde. “Sponsors put their name out there for you, put their personal brand on you, invest in you, stick out their neck for you.” He also notes that finding a sponsor takes time. You need a 12-month plan. And the place to start is your network. 

Runde has created something he calls the “sponsorship pyramid.” At the base is your network. The next level, which contains fewer people than your network, contains your role models. One step up from that, with even fewer people, are your mentors. And at the very top, with the fewest people of all, are your sponsors. And to get some real sponsors, you’ll have to do what someone told Runde he had to do after he didn’t get promoted many years ago: “You have to work your tail off for the next 365 days to find your sponsor and give that person the ammunition to truthfully say what needs to be said about your promotion.” 

Get social proof! – i.e. to get people to talk about you

4. Earn your clients’ trust first. Earn your commissions second. 

Asking clients for money is one of the most difficult aspect of any sales job. And bankers, lawyers, accountants, consultants, and many other professionals in other industries are nothing if not salespeople. That is, if they want to rise beyond entry-level positions, they’re going to have to learn how to sell, which is also known as closing deals. If they don’t, they’ll have very short careers. And according to Runde, the first, and most important, step of any sale is to earn your client’s trust. All else is secondary. Here’s why: No matter how smart you are, according to Runde, you’ll never be able to predict what your clients need or want. So, you’re going to have to get your clients to tell you what they need and want. And the way to get them to tell you is to earn their trust. Once you do that, you’re home free, says Runde. 

As for how to earn that trust, that’s where soft skills like empathy and listening come in. You need to increase your empathy and improve your listening skills, which means you need to increase your ability “to experience the feelings of another person” and to “learn to listen to listen,” not just wait until it’s your turn to speak. Half the battle when dealing with any client, says Runde, is “knowing when to shut up.” Once your clients tell you what they need, then you can give it (sell it) to them. “In professional services,” writes Runde, “your goal is to evolve your role in client relationships from a service provider to a trusted advisor.” 

Get Social Proof! – i.e. to get people to believe what you have to say

5. It matters where you sit in a sales meeting. A lot. 

How important is it where you sit in a client meeting? Very, says Runde. In fact, it can mean the difference between making the sale or not. And there’s a definite power play when it comes to choosing seats. He writes, “At a rectangular conference table, the power position is in the center of the table facing the door. The person seated there can see who is entering and exiting the room. The people with the most power may jockey for that spot. The second most important position is the seat to the power position’s right.” Runde points this out because you want to choose your seats strategically. “You do not want to overwhelm the client,” he writes, “and you want to set up a collegial dynamic.” And so, arriving early to a meeting is key. If you or your team is the first to arrive, then you can suss out the seating situation and plan accordingly. 

Runde also recommends that if you have a big team and the client team is small, make sure your team doesn’t sit altogether. So, if you have four people on your team and only one member of the client is present, then one of your team members should sit next to the client, and the rest of your team should sit across the table. “The table serves as a natural barrier,” writes Runde, “and people in meetings who sit across from one another may become almost adversarial … You do not want to unconsciously create a competitive situation by sitting across from the client.” 

All of this is why Runde makes it a point to sit next to clients, so it appears as though he’s “on their side.” I asked him if this tactic works. “Every time,” he told me. 

Get Social Proof! – i.e. get visibly noticed (a picture speaks a thousand words)

6. You MUST speak to the CEO when you’re both in the elevator. 

We’ve all been there. You’re in the elevator alone, and who but the CEO of your company steps into the tiny square room with you, the doors close, and the elevator slowly makes its descent. Runde writes, “Are you going to take this opportunity to introduce yourself and impress the head of your firm or are you going to demonstrate how well you can avoid eye contact by looking at your smartphone?” According to Runde, doing the latter is a HUGE mistake. “If you’re in an elevator with the CEO, you MUST talk to them,” he says. “It’s a missed opportunity to do otherwise.” And if the Very Important Person in the elevator already knows you, then you have to engage them on some topic. “And you can’t talk about the weather,” says Runde. 

Again… “my silences have never protected me!”


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