ImmerseIt’s a question I hear frequently from clients in professional services: “How do I accelerate my high-performers’ ability to identify, nurture, and develop profitable business? Too many lack the ability to be intentional, quantifiable, and strategic in their new-business growth objectives. What can we do about that?”

Indeed, how can you get the less-experienced people in your firm charged with new business development to where they need to be, as quickly and effectively as possible? Failing to find an answer is holding back too many professional service firms. I propose that there is actually a sound methodology with proven return on impact.

Invest in the willing

It starts with investing in the willing, because in my experience, there isn’t much anyone can do to help the unwilling! Make willingness your primary litmus test. Do the individuals you wish to invest in understand that…

a)     Development opportunities are an investment;

b)     Similar to other prudent investments, they will be required to show a return on that investment; and

c)      Only a change in their behavior will create the impact the firm leadership seeks?

If the answer is “yes”—and only if—then you have identified a cohort for development.

Next question: What do they need development on? I’ve mentored executives across a broad range of situations, and have found that there are common themes among their need for development:

  • How can I create and sustain a compelling professional brand,
  • How can I create consistent market awareness,
  • How do I find and develop growth opportunities (within or external to the organization),
  • How can I build and nurture strategic relationships to accelerate my execution, performance and results,
  • How can I speak or present with more impact,
  • How do I develop a digital footprint consistent with my brand, and
  • How can I scale my ideas to reach new prospective market opportunities?

For your development cohort, which of these themes would you prioritize? Segment your willing individuals by their top few desired outcomes.

Provide immersive learning experiences

The days of classroom-based training featuring one-directional “talking heads” are numbered, because the model never was that successful. People’s learning styles are diverse. Today’s educators, trainers and coaches acknowledge that and bring a broader, more immersive approach to knowledge transfer.

To develop your high potentials, you need to provide them with a personal, challenging experience in which they contribute as much as they “ingest.” As an example I work with global clients in a Strategic Relationship Development Immersive Weekend, a format I developed for professional service firms.

Held at my home in Atlanta, these content-packed sessions are casual, comfortable and intimate, because we limit attendance to a small group of likeminded, growth-oriented professionals. We see little return on impact in training those who are interested in defending their status quo, so we focus on inviting those who are much more focused on challenging it. We model and expect that each individual contribute energetically, with candor that helps us move the conversation forward. No sacred cows escape alive from a Nour Immersive Weekend.

Make it more than one-and-done

As mentioned earlier, it is critical to keep in mind that real impact comes from a change in behavior. Individuals need to evolve what they to think about, feel, and do differently in how they engage and influence others, often without authority. Achieving this behavior change will make or break their progress toward a definitive goal.

Change in behavior doesn’t happen overnight; it is very difficult if not impossible to get with one-and-done training experiences. Instead, focus on making your learning experience felt prior to attendance, during the event, and after returning to the office.

I structure a Nour Immersive Weekend as follows:

  • Prior to attendance: Each attendee is required to have the commitment of an internal mentor/champion who will be a strategic source of support going forward. Each receives an agenda and homework assignment, such as reading or watching videos, as well as some prep work such as specific geographic territory details, list of target accounts, target strategic relationships, etc.
  • During the event: Attendees arrive on Thursday afternoon for a casual dinner, with an Executive Sponsor from their firm. Throughout the next two days a customized development agenda provides learning experiences through individual and small-team exercises, role-plays, hot seats, and breaks for developing relationships one-on-one. We mix the pace and style of activities to keep attendees stimulated and to engage all learning styles. Before they leave, attendees draft 30-60-90 day strategic relationship plans. They fly home on Saturday afternoon and enjoy Monday as a personal vacation to internalize what they observed.
  • Back at the office: The participants finalize their 30-60-90 day plan with their sponsoring mentor. Over the next 90 days, I offer unlimited phone and email access so I can guide them in their personal plan execution. Monthly scheduled calls allow me to gauge their progress and areas for improvement. Attendees receive an “all access pass” to a private, intelligent online community where they can continue the conversation and the learning long after the immersive weekend and 90 days of follow-up support.

But that’s just me. You might design your initiative to transfer knowledge and change behavior with other features. What’s imperative is that you pay attention to preparation prior to an immersion in learning, logistics during the event that support all learning styles in achieving your agreed-upon objectives, and follow-up afterward that holds participants accountable for true behavior change and provides the group support they need to attain that change.

If you’re asking how you can accelerate your high-performing midlevels’ ability to develop profitable engagements, the answer, I submit, is straightforward. Identify and invest in those willing to make a behavior change to reach agreed-upon goals, apply the most successful learning methodology—immersion—and create a culture in which senior leaders actively support their mentees’ behavior change through strategic relationships.

It’s worth your investment, because it returns more than a book of business—it generates strategic relationship capital.

Nour Takeaways

1. To successfully develop others’ new-business skills, invest only in those who understand they will need to return the investment with an impactful change in behavior.

2. Identify common themes in their development needs and segment your development cohorts so that you can bring together likeminded people to focus on specific outcomes.

3. Provide content-rich immersive learning experiences with components requiring attendees to focus on the desired behavior change before, during, and after the event itself.

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