Drastic changes to individual and corporate reputation.
The issue of corporate reputation has come into focus yet again. It is interesting how everyone feels the need to talk about it continuously, as people always try to name new approaches so that the topic remains trendy. Whether we call it ’employee branding’ or ‘internal image building’, the point is the same: we have to deal with how people who influence the development of our company think about us and our business. That’s a fact, but as a true business developer, I need to correct that sentence immediately: a smart business owner should focus only on the opinions of people who truly influence the current and future development of the company!
Hunger and the Lack of Love
I think many people will not like the next train of thought, but as a business mentor, I have to get over this ‘little thing’ if I really want to support the progress of a business! The ‘mania’ of reputation has disappeared! Measuring the opinion about the reputation of a company have changed significantly in the last ten years, not only internationally but also in Hungary! Companies have become much more conscious of this. The era when every customer, every partner, and every employee had to say positive things about our business to survive is over! This, of course, like many other issues, has to do with generations. For the ‘Authoritarian’ Generation born between 1949 and 1960, the most important thing was to be loved by everyone. For the Supporter Generation, whether they had a positive or negative relationship with a partner or employee, breaking up nicely had paramount importance, even if it meant a significant loss to them. In all circumstances, they strove to maintain good relationships, even though in many cases, it required them to ‘act’. The attitude was understandable. Many professionals trace this behaviour to the fact that this generation began to build their companies in an autodidactic way, in most cases from simple, manual labour to owning big business empires, therefore owning and managing companies without management knowledge. I experienced such cases in my early consultative work. They were able to take this approach because neither the tax rules nor the accounting environment was healthy (to put it mildly), and they started their business in a very peaceful period of development when they did not need perfect company management to build a thriving business. But it took conscious, hard work that was not lacking in this generation. They are the largest ‘reference collectors’. They worked only with someone who was already trusted by a friend, and even though the recommended person was incompetent, they could persevere with him or her for emotional reasons, whether it was a low-level service provider or just a nice-looking loafer.
Fear and the Desire for Recognition
Then came the next generation, who, just learning from the weakness of the previous generation, approached everything from the angle of knowledge and learning. In many cases, however, their knowledge remained scholarly. They quickly came to the forefront of international companies coming to Hungary at the time, and although in many respects they did not fit the job, many had great careers. The global economic crisis decimated them the most since when it came to exact decisions required of the head of a company, most of them failed. Obviously, there are such managers born between 1961-1972 who chose a different path and reached the peak of their careers when finally, it was the results that counted! They still play a decisive role in business, leading multinational or large Hungarian companies with great success. It is important to add this, as the discussion of generations can quickly turn into a generalisation, which does not project an ethical business development professional behaviour. So, if I ask the question like ‘are the today’s leaders from this generation characterised by these negative facts?’ then I have to say ‘no!’ That is to say, my statements could be wrong. But if I look at this generation as a whole, the managers that come out of it, then I really am right, only those who have disappeared in the crisis are not visible anymore! And that is right! This generation of business owners is suffering the most in Hungary today. It is clear that years ago, there was a need to shift in business thinking, but this is the biggest challenge for them.
They fail the biggest in the question of ‘references’. They still live with the belief that people admire them because they worked as a ‘multi-soldier’ at a large multinational company, even though that means almost nothing to today’s managers under the age of 45. However, they do not necessarily know how to manage their companies, since, when coming from a multinational company, it is difficult to learn the responsibilities of personal wealth. Their attitude towards references is also interesting. They are constantly asking questions, gathering information, often ‘gossiping’ because they want to meet everyone’s expectations. ‘Oh, just don’t say anything bad about me!’ This is the main motive. For the Authoritarians, whose main personality type is Supporter, their lack of knowledge causes the uncertainty that drives their need for references. For the ‘Precisionist’ Generation, which represents the Expert personality type, the ’empty space’ behind a nice-sounding career creates the constant and unnecessary ‘checking’ activity. Whatever the reason, the point is that their confidence in themselves and their decisions is not strong enough to commit to working with a new partner or employee. And even though they get slapped with a series of ‘well-referenced’ relationships, even though they calm down themselves by saying, ‘it didn’t work out’, they can’t usually get over this issue.
Drastic Change: the Individual/Diplomat Generation
Managers with Individual personality factor born between 1973 and 1984 are called the ‘Diplomat Generation’. I am a member of this generation, and I can say with certainty, perhaps proudly, that we have drastically shaken up the opinions about references and reputations in the market!
My first relationship with my own reference goes back to when I was twenty, when I wanted to leave a top position at one of the world’s largest banks of that time, and my boss, whose career was heavily dependent on the income generated by me, threatened me, that if I leave, he will give a negative reference about me. The second time the scenario was similar, where the turnover of around 2 billion HUF (6 million Euro) of an international company depended on me, so obviously, the ‘anger’ mentioned above was much stronger. By the way, in both cases, my bosses were exposed within six months after my exit. So, their fear was legitimate. In this case, I was utterly puzzled. I found the situation completely unfair because I invested tremendous energy and loyalty in my company, in my boss. I would have had the opportunity to ‘backstab’ my boss and sit in his seat several times, to be in the CEO position at the age of 26, but it never came to my mind. I was the only manager who didn’t do it! Still, I was the one who was punished? After all, other untrained professionals could leave cheerfully with a beautiful recommendation. Despite completely destroying their own departments, they coloured the story beautifully when searching for new jobs of similar calibres. And they found them! Amid my great frustration, I requested a meeting from my mentor, who was an English gentleman and of course, the HR area was his forte. He provided me with a piece of good advice, which I have been following ever since. The point was that exceptional people with high achievements would never receive traditionally good references. Some love them, and some can’t stand them. The better the results they achieve at a given company, the more the existence of the company depends on them. Not many people reach this level, but those who attain it should not expect an amicable split. It’s kind of like when spouses divorce when a strong love still exists. They can’t meet as friends! They have to get rid of each other for a good while because the love wound is still alive. Of course, as an Expert, I tested this train of thought, but why would I argue with a 66-year-old professional who has experienced thousands of business situations? After almost twenty years, I have to say that he was absolutely right! Where there is a dependency, you should not count on an objective letter of recommendation.
I’m not alone with these stories, and that’s probably why the new generation of managers has opened a new chapter regarding references. Especially in key positions, especially in important areas of cooperation, they do not want such people around whom everyone has a positive opinion. Because it’s average and not unique. However, in today’s business world ‘average’ is not enough to deal with the critical tasks; everyone knows that! For us, the reference is understood differently. We do not strive to be sympathetic to everyone! We select! In my private life, I would like to hear positive feedback from someone I respect. And I don’t care about the opinion of someone I consider to be a bad person. If anyone judges me based on such a negative opinion, then at least I know that I wouldn’t want to collaborate with that person, as ‘birds of a feather flock together’! The same is true in business, and this way of thinking resulted in a very new turn in the business development market. Especially in the post-crisis period, when most of the locally owned business development companies went bankrupt. Is this the time to sort out partners? Seriously? And yes! Although progress is slower, one can readily cooperate with partners where the work is real, and the focus is on real things. If I had to play a role in front of a partner, sooner or later it would significantly reduce the quality of my work. I would change my personality, which in turn would reduce the efficiency of my work. Why would I do this with my partners or colleagues?
Am I alone with this thought? No! I thought I was for a long time. But business owners from my generation—whom I have met more and more in recent years—have similar ideas. And this is already a principle internationally. The market is obviously bigger, but managers place a strong emphasis on being able to live their lives without playing roles.
As a company owner, there are many tests
As an employee, I grumbled when depending on this reference mania. Now, as a business owner, I enjoy the benefits of this situation, although life has tested me hard in many cases! One time, I had to stand up next to an owner I represented against the other owners, which caused a great war and put my image in danger. Another time, I was pressured to ‘blackball’ a national team captain to protect my image, a captain who was one of the first in Hungary to trust me and the system we represented. Despite the dangers, I stood by my partners. But life is funny because although in both cases I received negative criticism, that is precisely the reason why many new mentoring partners appeared, partners with whom I have been working and bonding with as friends ever since. They saw the whole process, and for them, the most important thing was that the mentor would risk anything for his client.
Other informative moments came from the field of business development when consulting colleagues brought in companies for development. There were two cases in eight years when a dear partner thought that sales team development did not involve paying salespeople, there is no need to set aside money, because within three months they would bring in the full amount of investment, even if it was about launching an unknown product on the market, which could take years. At the end of the process, we terminated the relationship and the contract because these owners took actions that ran afoul of our principles, which we could not support. Of course, the ‘divorce’ was not pleasant. And, of course, there are negative references! I never agreed with revenge, but some believe in it. Do we need to deal with this? I do not want to develop partners to whom the opinion of such people is decisive in any respect. Do I need to stop this process? Why would I do that? Partner selection requires significant filtering, and we do not waste our time on companies that will fail due to this way of thinking, which happened in these two cases.
References, Fears, and Tests
How do I get the right information about a future partner? How can I test a prospective colleague? How do I measure a company’s reputation? These are crucial questions! The common decision point: I have to take the decision and its consequences! Therefore, should I minimise the amount of risky investment? Should I test the situation and believe my own eyes?
In the case of employees, one should be wary of headhunters, who focus on references, because it is easy to lose out on many valuable people, even the most valuable ones! The headhunter must be able to examine the whole story, but unfortunately, most of them are not capable of this. This process requires a complex personality analysis. In light of this, we can immediately decide whether the story presented by the applicant is true or not. If a Ruler-type person indicates that the main reason for dismissal is that they were not allowed to be people-centric, then obviously one should not eat their story up with a spoon! But a significant number of clichés about prospective employees must be thrown aside! ‘People who are always changing jobs are not reliable!’ So what? If one wants to introduce a new product, this person is perfectly suited to the task. And if one cannot be given a brand-new challenge, of course, he or she will go on. Does that make anyone bad? Will they not be good at, let’s say, introducing our latest product to the market, and then handing over the established channels to an Expert leader? This is perfect business development! Does the ex-boss say it is impossible to work with him or her? What kind of boss said that? And for what purpose do we need this person? Do not think we are smart and thorough by calling the former employers! And do not believe that HR professionals are competent for doing this! How many times have I heard proudly from an owner of a 50+ person business that he only works with ‘well-vetted people’? Of course, their business is not running smoothly, because he or she wants to develop a business; this is why we meet! But such owners can no longer see the connection between the two facts!
Selection of the Business Developer
Obviously, it is not appropriate to close this topic without talking about our reputation. Although it is less and less so, it is still divisive. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether it’s worth changing this. But I could never act. I was never willing to let go of professionalism. Maybe the partner will not love 3B. We certainly won’t assist in things that are good for the owner but will destroy his or her business. And we will certainly not remain silent in such cases! 3B has its principles, and those partners who have not only shared but also followed these principles have been able to stay with us. What are these principles?
The owner must be happy in his or her business; they must live a happy life. The approach is not idealistic, as it is true for all long-term 3B developments, the owners are living the happiest life possible, and they love their businesses.
- We change the horizons of the owner and the organisation and open up new perspectives. Hungarian companies are not limited to Hungary, and one needs to be able to dream. Of course, I say this as an Expert. But domestic business owners must learn to dream realistically because goals can only be achieved if there are goals in the first place. So, without real goals, or with an ‘inferiority complex’, we cannot do our job.
- People cannot be stepped on! We do not engage in organisational development where the interests of loyal members of the organisation are clearly harmed, even if it serves the short-term interests of the owner.
- We cannot tolerate insincere people. Business development is successful if the business developer knows all the circumstances. There is no place for lies or prevarications! This does not mean that the partner has to talk about everything, but what he or she does say must be true.
- Our partner needs to improve. It often happened that the partner already had sufficient market share, profit, revenue, etc., but had not yet reached the level agreed at the beginning of the business development process. In such cases, we will not stop, nor will we allow the partner to do so, as this would fundamentally endanger the long-term stability of the business.
- What you promise, you keep. This is true in case of a deadline for work, the time when the bills shall be paid, but even in case of smaller issues.
- Almost lastly, I left perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the domestic environment. Business needs investment! We need to put money in before we have the right to take it out. Except for some lucky cases, the era is over when businesses just ‘grew’. Anyone who does not want to risk money should not expect improvement.
- And finally, the most important to me: focus on the results and do not forget where we started! Always focus on profit. A business developer is there to grow the owner’s private wealth!
What about reputation? When we post an advertisement for a new colleague to join 3B, and we post it on the oft scorned profession.hu, we receive an average of 212 applications, though in this regard we have very high expectations. But our headhunting also produces impressive numbers when looking for a colleague for our partners under the umbrella of 3B. A 3B colleague never wanted to leave the company, so the effective fluctuation rate is 0%. On the partner side, this year we are celebrating the 19th, 14th, 12th, 10th, and so on cooperation anniversaries. Among these companies, there are owners of every generation, just to prove that generation does not define our relationships. But, indeed, these managers have never really been understood by their own age groups! And those who were not satisfied with us in some way were ones who could not keep the above principles. Of course, I would not say that we are perfect! Although it sometimes happens in business development, but there is no room for mistakes in mentoring! This is simply how we see the world, and the partners that will enjoy the cooperation are the ones who look into the future in the same way. They’re going to be put on a higher-level business map, and they should be able to rise to that occasion! And, of course, some don’t like it, but the feeling is mutual, and because we believe in ourselves and our business development knowledge, we respect their opinions, but they are not our target group.