Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What’s Next? From Airy-Fairy to Nitty-Gritty


Sometimes clients and donors initiate the process. They approach you seeking assistance in accomplishing the next big thing they crave for their life, their marriage, their family, their business, their giving, or their legacy. At other times, the life-review aspects of The Meaning of Success Priceless Conversation, or some similar process draws a compelling craving to the surface and make it clear to them they must do something about it right away.

I use a simple question in those situations to focus and clarify their urgency and to launch a Level-Three conversation: “WHAT’S NEXT?”Here are two examples.               

Advisor: “It’s nice to hear from you, John. How have you been?”      

Client: “Not well. I was in the hospital last week. They thought it may have been a stroke or a series of strokes, but they’re not completely sure. However, it sure scared the willies out of me.”      

Advisor: “Oh no. That sounds serious. Tell me more.”      

Client: “I just don’t know whether I’m going to be able to keep running our family business, and I realize I need to make sure Mark is firmly in charge. You’ve been telling us for years we need a transition strategy, and now I know we can’t put it off any longer. I realize that if this stroke had been more serious, we’d have a real mess on our hands right now.”      

Advisor: “I can tell by the sound of your voice that this is vitally important to you. I want to help you and your family, and I think I can. But tell me as succinctly as you can, what’s next? What’s the next thing we need to do now?”      

Client: “I need you to help me pass the reins over to Mark. I know we’ve been talking about this for years and I’ve been putting it off, but now it’s time.”       

* * *

Advisor: “Mary, here’s your Meaning of Success Priceless Conversation gift box, ready for you to add to your Legacy Library. That was such a delightful experience for me to share with you.”      

Client: “Thanks so much. It really was enjoyable. But it got me thinking.”      

Advisor: “About what?”

Client: “About the fact that I never finished college. We got married when Ted graduated and we always said I’d go back after we got settled, but then we started having babies, and things got so busy and it just never happened. Now that Ted is gone . . . . “      

Advisor: “It sounds like you’ve got something in mind for your next big step? What is that?”      

Client: “I want to go back to college and finish my degree. Imagine that, at my age! But I don’t know where to even start. I guess I need someone to help me figure out how to do that. I trust you. Could you help me with that?”

With the answer to the “What’s next?” question clearly on the table, the advisor needs to follow four more steps:

1) Ask: What makes this so important to you?        

2) Ask: What are the consequences if we don’t take care of this?        

3) Ask: What are the benefits if we do take care of this?        

4) Describe: Here’s my process for helping you addressing this problem.       

The three questions help the client or donor and the advisor appreciate more fully why accomplishing the next step truly matters. By answering them candidly and thus developing and clarifying within the client’s or donor’s mind two sharply contrasting stories — the negative story of not reaching the desired objective and the positive story of doing so — the client or donor reinforces their internal drive to get going. It is the clarity and juxtaposition of these two internal narratives that drive the client or donor to action. (Once again, it’s all about the story.)               

The description of your process tells the client or donor that you have a system for finding the best answers to their problems and delivering solutions. It also shows that you are experienced, that you understand people in their situation, that you are thoughtful and systematic, and that you can guide them to where they want to go. It gives them the confidence to follow you.               

Strategic Vision: From Airy-Fairy to Nitty-Gritty

At this point it’s time to begin plotting a course for improving an aspect of the client’s or donor’s future, such as family relations, health, investments, and so on. We call this process the Strategic Vision. There are a number of SunBridge tools available for accomplishing this; for example, we use a variety of worksheets such as the “Get It Done Action Plan” or the “Strategic Vision” template. With a larger group, we may use a portable storyboard and colored Post-It® Notes. On these we write the client’s or donor’s best thinking on several important questions:               

1. What aspect of your life do you want to change?                

2. Why is it important for you to do so?                

3. Where are you now?                

4. What if you stay where you are now?                

5. What might be holding you back from moving forward?                

6. Where do you want to be a year from now? In the next 90 days?                

7. What are the benefits of reaching those objectives?                

8. What action steps are necessary for you to get from where you are now to where you want to be?               

The result of the thinking process engendered by this series of questions is a set of clear and specific actions steps to be taken, some by the client or donor, some by the advisor, and some by other people.               

A client’s or donor’s Strategic Vision or Get It Done Action Plan may include anything from losing ten pounds and rediscovering romance with a spouse to founding an international philanthropic organization. The only rule is: If it matters to the client or donor, it matters. We have seen that this Strategic Vision approach allows the client or donor to keep both broad vision and next-steps clear and present.               

The advisor can then set up this set of action steps in a simple X-Y grid, with the various action items along one axis and relevant time intervals along the other. This graphing is what translates the vision from theory or ideal into practice, while the simplicity of the structure ensures that it stays flexible and therefore useful.               

One of our colleagues who took the SunBridge training said that Strategic Vision takes the “airy-fairy” of a mere vision and turns it into the “nitty-gritty” of tangible steps needed for the realization of that vision. This is the essence of Level Three.               

It is not just about getting the big picture of the client’s or donor’s life, beyond the situational stories shared by the client at Level Two. It’s about identifying the life story, the through-lines of concern, the abiding and persistent values and interests, and crafting them into a guidebook, a map, a tangible plan. Some of us may go our entire lives without finding someone willing and able to serve as an ally in this process. At Level Three, this is precisely what your clients or donors find in you.

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