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May 18, 2022   |  Articles

Businesses is Businesses

When I was in high school, I used to babysit regularly and one evening I found myself watching Muppets Take Manhattan with two of my charges.  I had seen the movie before but on that viewing, I was particularly struck by diner owner Pete’s philosophy “peoples is peoples” and the phrase has stuck with me ever since.

Flashing forward to 2022 when, for a brief moment in late April, I emerged temporarily from my maternity leave haze and moderated a panel on Managing an Appraisal Practice for the NorCal chapter of the American Society of Appraisers.  My role was to keep the conversation flowing and to offer some tools or insights based on the challenges we discussed.  Afterwards, I heard that at least one attendee had expressed surprise that I had had no previous experience with appraisers or appraising given how relevant my suggestions were.  In that moment, a variation on Pete’s phrase came back to me: “businesses is businesses”.

In the movie, Pete is explaining to Kermit that cities are more than just buildings. Pete says that cities are also made of people who are so different from each other and yet all still people.  I believe that the same is true of businesses and organizations.  Of course, being made up of people, this may come as no surprise but the implications can be fairly far reaching.

Just as each person is a unique individual, each organization is its own special snowflake.  The solutions that will best serve one set of people, with their own values and philosophy, will likely be different from what can best serve any other organization – or even the same organization in a different phase of its growth or maturity.  But the *process* you follow to find those solutions can be remarkably consistent.

Take, for example, the advice I imparted during the webinar for ASA.  I talked about OKRs, the importance of defining the words you are using in your goals (aka, Tricksy Words), and the benefits of praise.  OKRs are often considered a domain of the tech industry, tricksy words are all about communications and language, and the praise ratios trace back to psychology studies that informed org development and leadership research.  Said differently, none of these concepts has an innate connection to appraisals but they all have to do with people and how they might work most effectively together.

Shifting gears for a moment, when it comes to marketing and positioning, I have seen firsthand how the more precisely you can define your ideal client, the more likely you are to receive referrals.  For many independent consultants like myself, this tends to mean focusing on a specific industry or otherwise narrowing your customer base by what they do.  Because I believe so deeply in the potential to serve businesses across many industries, however, I have taken a slightly different approach and have really tried to tap into how my ideal clients are feeling – what they are experiencing that I can help them address. 

An early articulation of this concept showed up in my “Who you gonna call?” article from 2020.  When networking, my quick introductions of what I do have leaned into a variety of metaphors around the founder and leader experience rather than the type of businesses they have built.  My favorite describes my ideal clients as standing in a riverbed, personally holding a dam in place, knowing that taking a step back would result in the dam being washed away but wishing that they were on the bank instead, figuring out if the dam is even in the right place to begin with!

The decision to avoid focusing on a particular industry is also somewhat selfish.  One of my favorite parts of the work I do is learning about the different industries my clients work in while we craft the operating model they need or optimize their processes.  From mortgage brokers to cannabis delivery, being able to dip my toe into worlds I will never fully occupy is a key benefit of consulting.

But sometimes I still question whether I would be better off picking a target industry for my clients and the feedback that this advice was valuable to the appraisers was just the reminder I needed to stick with my current path.  I may get a smidge fewer referrals than if I zeroed in on a particular industry but the clients who do head my way will bring with them just the challenges I am looking for.  With luck, I will continue to learn about a wide variety of industries while continuing to unlock growth potential for each and every one.  After all, peoples is peoples and businesses is businesses! 

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