Nearly 20 years ago, I was having a conversation with one of my first clients about recently breaking up with my boyfriend. (Yes, I know, but I was an open book back then.)
My client asked me, “What do you think was the major issue in your relationship?” And, despite my naiveté, I gave him an answer that I have found increasingly important over time, not only in my personal life, but in my work with advisory firms as well: “I should have listened more closely,” I said, “to what my boyfriend told me at the beginning of our relationship, when he said that if things didn’t work out, we should always be friends.”
Sounds like a sweet sentiment, doesn’t it? One that many of us have probably uttered a time or two over the years. However, if you stop to think about the message behind the message, you’ll realize it’s not so sweet after all.
Picture the situation: You’re on your second or third date with someone you’ve recently met. Things are going well, you have that warm feeling of really connecting with someone, and you’re talking about having a more serious relationship. Then, the person you’re imagining in your future comes out with, “Well, if it doesn’t work out … .”
Beginning to see the problem here? I’m thinking about building a good relationship; he’s thinking about what happens when it doesn’t work out. In addition to being a major buzzkill, his statement didn’t exactly indicate a major commitment to making our relationship work.
Now, I didn’t tell you that story to get your sympathy for my sad history of relationship issues (well, maybe a little sympathy wouldn’t hurt). The more important point here is about advisory firm owners and strategic plans. I recently had my mid-year strategic planning meetings with my advisory clients, in which we review our plans, assess where we are and lay out our goals for the rest of the year. Half of my clients — half! — asked me what our plan B was in case our strategic plan didn’t work out.
I tried to be patient with them — I really did — but, soon I wasn’t so nice. Finally, I simply told one firm owner, “If you want me to lay out your Plan B, you are saying that you are not committed to the plan I just proposed.”