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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pick Me! Pick Me! ...What is YOUR Essential Value Proposition?

[Also available as a podcast]

When my father graduated from university and got his first job as an Electrical Engineer, his manager told him the following on his first day:

"Congratulations on earning your degree. But I want you to know the only thing it shows me is that you know how to learn."

My father was stunned. He had worked hard to get his degree over several long years; surely all of what he had learned counted for something! Engineering was a hard degree to get and covered a lot of knowledge areas in depth...what was his manager talking about?

For the manager, my father's value proposition was the potential for a future of great contributions to the company, based on his educational focus and demonstrated ability to learn complex things (provided he continued to apply himself and work hard, of course). To be sure, the company must have seen value or they would not have hired my father in the first place - but it was still a shock for him to hear that message on his first day.

My father didn't tell me what he was thinking before he entered the office, but that first meeting with his manager had a profound effect on him. I even believe it was a defining moment for him. It forced him to look forward - to what he could do with and for the company, rather than dwell on his prior accomplishments.

What you have done is not as important as what you will do next. The past only shows what you were capable of then; it merely lays the groundwork for what you might become on your journey.

Image licensed from Fotolia #45593398

For many of us, our value proposition is often quite different than what we think it is. In fact, our value is always defined more by the other person (the receiver of your services) than by you (the giver of the service).

They want to know what YOU can do for them, and how you can help them solve their needs and problems. This is your Value to them.

But there is much, much more to it than that...  

Resetting Perspective

You may be a leader of many people, but at the grocery store you are just another customer with money to spend, that will help them pay their bills. You expect them to provide quality goods at a reasonable price.

You may be a brilliant world-renowned Particle Physicist or Nobel Prize Winner, but in the dentist's chair they only care if you have been flossing and brushing well. You, in turn, expect them to be competent at their chosen profession, so you don't leave the chair with more holes in your mouth than you had when you went in.

The fact is, your long list of accomplishments does not always matter. I am not saying what you have done or accomplished is irrelevant, far from it. However, you need to look at the specific situation to establish the proper perspective.

In the transactional model, your value proposition is about what can YOU do for THEM in a specific situation, and their value proposition is what THEY can do for YOU in turn.

If your perceived value is acceptable to them, and their perceived value is acceptable to you, then you are likely to strike a deal, make an exchange, purchase a product, sign a contract, hire the other party to perform a task or tasks - or join a company for the long term, in a partnership or employee-employer relationship.

It's simply not just about you and what you want. It never is.

Pick Me! Pick Me!

Nobody ever hired you just to give you a job.

Likewise, no company ever gave your company business just because you needed someone to buy your product or service in order to meet your quarterly targets.

These days, there are a lot of people looking for work - and companies looking for customers, retail and corporate.

Nothing new, really - markets are cyclical, boom and bust (guess which part of the cycle most people think we are in...!).

Regardless of the market conditions, the reality is that many people still get jobs, many companies still sell to customers - and some even grow and flourish despite market conditions. At the same time, others suffer, have difficulty finding a new job or getting that next customer.

Why do some do so well - while others continue to get frustrated as a company lays off people around them - or including them?

You may have comparable products, skills or self-perceived value to everyone else bidding on a contract or applying for a job, but one person or company is always singled out and gets the business, or the job.

So what is it that makes the biggest difference?

Well, before I tell you, there is one thing we have to do.

Knock that Chip off your Shoulder

I am not trying to be mean; what I mean by this is that if you have been doing something for a while, or maybe got a big promotion, it is common to have a decent sized sense of your own value and importance. Sometimes though, it gets a bit too big when we focus mainly on ourselves. Self-worth is fine; self-aggrandizement is not so good. Conversely it is quite unhealty to always put yourself down, so stay somewhere in the middle, okay?

The reason the expression is "chip on your shoulder" and not "bulge in your jacket pocket" or something else is that it reminds us that our vision gets partially obstructed when that "chip" is parked on your shoulder. Sometimes you can have them on both shoulders, and they can grow into blinders. You can lose sight of the bigger picture and the other people around you - especially your team.

Want a dose of humility? Try to fix your broken toilet, and then have to call the plumber in the middle of the night and explain how you broke it even more. He doesn't care about whether you work at Wendy's or are the CEO of WalMart. He just cares about fixing the gusher and getting that healthy overtime callout surcharge on top of his regular rate, because you disturbed his sleep. (No, this did not actually happen to me. It's just an example!...maybe)

So give your shoulders a good firm shake. Brush them off for good measure, make sure there are no chip fragments left. They can grow back all too quickly.

But don't shake too hard and drop all your skills, experience and aptitudes though...we will need those next.

Be Useful

"Find a need and fill it, and the world will come beating to your door."

Well, perhaps, if you are lucky that will happen. The more realistic approach is to figure out how you can be useful - or continue to be useful.

If you are staying in the same company or job, it is always a good idea to periodically ask yourself if you are still useful to others - especially before someone notices that you are not being useful. If they notice it first, you might be someone in the next paragraph.

If you are changing jobs (voluntarily or otherwise), the most important thing you can do is figure out where you will be useful. Notice that I did not say "where you will be great"...scrape off that bit of chip from your left shoulder.

When you look over an RFP, or job description, look at it closely. I want you to put aside your first thoughts if they are "can we sell our product?" or "I like the hourly rate". We can get back to that later.

Look at it again - and ask yourself first "can I help them?", or "will my product or service make a difference and satisfy what they need?"

Next, look at your assets - the product suite, your service offering, or, if you are applying for a job, your experience and areas of expertise and skills. What have you done or can you do, deliver or provide that will help them? How can you or your company be useful?

Ok, now you can look at the other stuff (sales, money, hourly rate). But only a quick peek, then tuck it away.

Next questions.
- "Do I want to help them?"
- If you help them, will it also help you? (Sales, salary, opportunity to grow, feeling good about doing it, etc).

If the answer is "no" to either one, go back up to "Be Useful" and pull another one from the pile. If the situation only helps one of you, it is not a good starting point and eventually one side will feel it is try for a near balance (win-win).

If the answer is "yes, I want to help them and it will help me in some way", read on...

Do it with ...

I hope most of you made it this far. Not everybody does. In fact, it took me a few weeks to make it back down this far the last time...but I digress.

So... you can help them, you want to help them, and you feel good about it - a win/win of some kind.


You just made it to the shortlist and are in the final round.

And the winner is....


Yup, Passion. Not the fruit, but the in-your-guts-oh-boy-I-really-like-doing-it kind.

Can do + Want to Do + Do it with Passion is the winning combination that makes the difference.

The thing to remember about Passion, though is that it sometimes sneaks away while you are busy "just working". Then one day, you find out it is missing, and you are not having as much fun any more.

If that happens, you need to find it again. Surprisingly though, the Passion you find may not even be the same one you thought you had lost. As people grow and change, what excites them can also change. Not always, but often. You may even find there is more than one of them running around your feet, waiting to be picked up.

If you have lost your Passion, I strongly suggest that you go find it (or another one). We all need Passion!


As my Father found out on his first day of work, the most basic factor of your Value Proposition is how you (or your comany) can be useful to others. If you can't be useful, well, try doing something else. Of course, it is not a one-way street; you have to get something out of the exchange as well - fiscally or emotionally, the relationship should be useful to you too.

Note: A Prima Donna with stellar skills is far less useful than someone who is "pretty good" but a stellar team player, unless maybe they are a brain surgeon.

Being useful, however, is just table stakes. If you want to stand out, and get a chance to be useful by winning the contract or getting that job, you need Passion.

Not only that - you need to be able to communicate that usefulness and passion, and show them, no, convince them that you "have it" - with no chips on any shoulders.

Don't believe me? I have had (and lost) different passions over many years as I have grown and changed; over the last decade or so I have developed several areas of Passion related to Project Management and serving customers - but my latest additional Passion took me completely by surprise (just this week, actually!)

What is it?

You'll find out soon...but it has something to do with writing. And it's new.

Hint: You can search, but not on search engines, and you will find it...but if you don't, you'll have to wait until early 2013.

If you find it, leave a comment on the blog or drop me an email. A couple of you will win something if you get it right!

Good luck with your projects, and make sure to find your Passion!