Creating change with generosity

It’s a well acknowledged notion that you’ve got to be in the right position or know someone who is, to exact change. I think those factors are useful and might help but aren’t the only ones influencing change. There’s more to it.

Years ago, I was hired by a corporate client for a long-term copywriting assignment. It was a simple job — they send me instructions on what to create and I turn it around within the stipulated timeline. That’s it! And so, I did. The client was pretty happy with my output as it met his expectations. But I was irritated.

Not because I was was a rebel but the quality of what I was producing was way below the standards I’d set for myself. Now, mind you, this was right at the cusp of content marketing breaking out into mainstream marketing. So, there was a lot going on and the way content was being produced and consumed was evolving as well. As a creator, I wanted to ensure that I was at the leading edge of all this change and the best way to do that was produce work that’s relevant. I wasn’t doing that.

Out of frustration, I decided to include a “P.S.” or post-script towards the end of every email with the finished work attached. This would be just a “suggestion” that the client were to see and freely discard if they didn’t find it useful. And I believe he did for the longest time though my politely acknowledging with a standard, “thanks for your suggestion.” To me, it didn’t matter. I was focused on sharing the best practices that were relevant and useful. The onus was on the client to either embrace or ignore them.

This went on for a good 8 months (that’s like over a hundred post-scripts). I hadn’t given up because I had zero expectations from the client to change anything. That’s how corporates work. The direction (even if it comes to the way they communicate) has to come from the top. So I focused on what I could do, which was to keep giving suggestions. In fact, it became my standard protocol to use post-scripts for these suggestions that the clients were free to ignore. But we copywriters know, the P.S. is where the meat is.

So, one day I got a reply back from the client simply stating, “Sunil, great suggestions. Please, can you incorporate them into the copy you’d sent me? I’m keen to see how it looks with your recommendations.” And so, I did was I was told. He was blown away and so was his boss. This led me to more engaging and high-impact work with the client including compiling a writer’s style guide and virtually training some of his interns.

Coincidentally, over the course of next few months, his company’s brand and communication guidelines were also refreshed, which led to a couple of high-stakes projects. Whom do you think they hired to lead them? All it took me were a couple of extra minutes for the post-scripts to win the client’s confidence and build influence within his internal team.

That’s exactly what I talk about when I say ‘be generous.’ It’s a no-strings-attached proposition where you just give something valuable without even being asked for. It’s hard work to wreck your head to make a thoughtful suggestion each and every time you email someone. But it’s the right thing to do because you, as a professional, believe that it’ll add value to the client you’re serving. Do that often enough, you’ve set yourself up for change.

And yet, the number one feedback I get from people at the production level is there’s no room for creativity. While I agree that might be the case, nobody’s really stopping you from making suggestions. They could be deliberate yet subtle. You don’t have to be attached to them either. Just make them because you think it might add value. It might not, at least according to the client. And that’s okay.

Just keep at it until something shifts — they either ask you to stop making suggestions or just implement it! You win both ways. Even if they tell you to stop. How? Well, now you know that’s really not the client you would like to work with for long. If professional and intellectual growth is one of your focus areas.

As I mentioned previously, this is hard work. It’s uncomfortable, risky, takes time and is definitely not for everybody. But think about change won’t lead you to one. You’ve got to do your part to make it happen.

P.S. It’s common knowledge that everyone wants change but nobody wants to change. And if you are one of them. That’s alright. The above was just a suggestion. Feel free to discard it. It’s okay.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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