3 Rules We Broke to Establish Trust in Our Business Partnerships
Relying on default corporate practices may be doing more damage than you realize. How rewriting your rules can lead to stronger output, happier workers and long-lasting client relationships.
When you see a successful company, it seems as though its success happened overnight — a Cinderella story, if you will. We all know that's not reality. But the beautiful thing about building and running your own business (while extraordinarily challenging at times) is that it allows you to take what's broken and rethink the structures around it. This process has helped us define our principles and create practices that not only produce great work, but happy workers and satisfied clients as well.
After more than ten years of bucking conventional business norms, we've developed a new set of rules that we live by. To be sure, the traditional ways of finding new business and bringing people together to work on projects still exist, but the last couple of years in particular have helped a new way of working take flight, and it's one we at Gather have been quietly improving, just waiting for the world of work to catch up.
While we've done so, it's given us insight into how to bring the best people together for the best result. Whatever industry you're in, work-from-anywhere paradigms have meant you can find the best people for any task regardless of their location. The world of work is forever changed — we think it's time to change with it.
Related: How I Know Who to Trust in Business
The rule: Your skills as an interviewer will produce great hires.
The new rule: Assume your ability to screen candidates is average at best.
Ninety-three percent of Americans believe they are better-than-average drivers. That's obviously not statistically possible. So I ask you, do you think you're a better-than-average interviewer? Well, what if you're not? Most people are simply not trained on how to properly interview job candidates, outside of avoiding any potentially illegal questions (and even then, one out of five interviewers unknowingly do this anyway). When you accept or assume that you are probably an average interviewer, you may want to consider other ways to filter candidates. We've operated on a "refer and vouch" system from day one, and it's brought some serious power players through our doors — many of whom are still here 10 years later.
Any marketer will tell you word of mouth is the most effective advertising, and the same is true in staffing. While we encourage anyone to join the Gather ranks, every single person who ultimately becomes a member must be referred and vouched for by an existing member. There's no cover letter, resume, or application process here, because those things don't tell us what we need to know about how you work and the results you can produce.
There's the old adage, "It's not about what you know, it's about who you know." In our community, both of these things are true. Who you know may get you in the door, but it's what you know (not to mention how you apply that knowledge, as well as your general work ethic and attitude) that gives them the assurance to personally vouch for you. There is no greater vote of confidence than that. And the fact is, referrals have a much higher rate of job satisfaction and retention.
No matter how big the network gets (and size should never be your goal over quality), every step in that growth is built on hard-earned trust. Both ourselves and our clients know that every member we add has been personally referred and vouched for by members of the community.
The rule: Do as you're told.
The new rule: Double opt-in method.
There's an old, but sadly still relevant, joke in the consulting world: Workers are volunTOLD to work on a project. We're living in the midst of the so-called "Great Resignation"; assigning an employee or consultant a task like it's some sort of gift should be a thing of the past.
At its core, all jobs are about solving a problem. We are in the business of forming teams around client problems. So, when we give our network of independents the power to raise their hand and say "Yes, I want to work on that project, with that team and for that client," the dynamics really show up when it comes time for execution.
In today's economy, the new best practice is a double opt-in method. Workers want to be as informed about the project and partners they work with as do the companies hiring those workers. When both sides get to choose, it's a true meeting of equals. That means complete consent to perform the work comes from both directions. Regardless of what service you're providing or product you're selling, giving your employees the power to opt-in to the work they're doing not only does wonders for morale, but it promotes higher quality outputs, because it's work they're passionate about.
RFPs = corporate mediocrity
The rule: RFPs result in the best suppliers.
The new rule: Trust your partners, not the process.
There's a reason some people make a living writing documents like grant applications and industry proposals: They follow very specific conventions and language, and as such, they're a recipe for a very particular kind of mediocrity that's endemic to the corporate sector.
Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are a distinctly inhuman practice, and they're the worst way to judge what kind of partner you'll be working with. RFP's exist because of a lack of trust. The reason we only work with trusted partners is because we want relationships with people, not a client's confidence in our talents for staying within the strict guidelines of proposal writing.
We've worked with some of the biggest corporate names in the world, but that's not the feather in our cap. The trust we've established in our community is person to person, and we strive for the same relationships with our clients. As an owner-operated business, we make decisions on the next client or next project based on the type of work, the type of client and the right fit for our network members. This is a markedly different approach than responding to RFPs.
The output of an RFP is artificial precision. The outcome of an RFP is a broken promise. Companies rarely get the talent on the page. Service providers make the sale and then provision the talent after the deal is done. We've found RFPs often mean tapping into a B-team to support the work. I want our clients to know who they're buying, and that's Hilary or Trinity (or any number of the exceptionally talented people who work at Gather) – that's the service.
Rules are made to be broken. Above all, remember that your current rules are just that — current. Challenge them. See how far they bend before they break (under controlled conditions). The new rules will become the pillars upon which to build your business through a process of evolution, rather than ones you applied simply because it's how business was done.
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