Pop quiz hot-shot. What do the following three people all have in common?
- A product manager responsible for defining a product, driving engineering, and taking that product to market.
- Anyone working a sales job for any product, in any place.
- A candidate applying for any job, or requesting a promotion/raise at any job
Answer: They must all understand how to define value, understand how that value differentiates, and be able to definitively communicate that differentiation.
I’ll call these the 3–Ds’ of Winning because they are applicable almost anywhere you look.
- Asking for that big, long-overdue promotion? 3–Ds’ of winning
- Looking to build a B2B partnership? 3–Ds’ of winning
- Negotiating for a raise? 3–Ds’ of winning
- Selling a solution? 3–Ds’ of winning
- Shopping for Venture Capital money? 3–Ds’ of winning
- Selling your company? 3–Ds’ of winning
- Applying for a business loan? 3–Ds’ of winning
I think you get the point. We often classify these as sales skills. That’s a mistake. That’s like saying the body’s ‘motor-skills’ are ‘driving-skills.’ Sure they help with driving, but they have much broader applicability. The reason this is important is that if you think of them as sales skills it’s too easy to write them off: ‘I’m not in sales’, or ‘I hate sales.’ Letting yourself fall into this trap does nothing but sell yourself short every time. Reclassify these skills as tools you use for winning the game of life. Just like the game of life you can hone things and use them to play with integrity by the rules, or take a different path. That’s your decision, and the one that decides if the skill is sleazy, or underhanded.
The nice thing about the 3–Ds’ of winning is that they neatly describe a 3–step path required to position value in a way that separates whatever is being positioned from the pack. We live in a world of options, and instant access to information. If you can’t find a way to remove yourself from the noise you’re in trouble.
I like the example of a corporate restructure or lay-off. They happen all the time, and cut some number or percentage from the work force. It’s a common trimming tool for companies, and can easily be argued as a necessary one. When they occur, the CFO along with the top executives decide a dollar figure, workforce percentage, number of head-count, etc. that they need to cut. They then pass this down the chain in some fashion.
Here I am Joe, a Director at the company and I’m tasked with cutting 20% of my team which means two of my ten people have to go. This sucks. I’ve been the right combination of adept and lucky in my leadership roles. So much so that I can say that I’ve built high-performance teams. At best I’ve had teams where I’d classify each member as excellent and my manager peers would agree. At worst I’ve had one complete dud hanging around. Let’s take that case.
Step one is obviously easy. The dud is my first choice of the two. I don’t like letting people go, but I also don’t like wasting my time on people who refuse to take ownership of their deficiencies and their growth. If you’re the ‘world happens to me’ type, go work for someone else. As I said, step one is easy. Whether that person has been at the company 20 minutes, or 20 years I won’t lose sleep over cutting them if they are the dud I just described.
Step two is hard. Step two sucks. Step two will keep me up for weeks. Nothing about the necessity of a restructure, maintaining share-holder value, etc. makes it any better. How do I decide between 8 excellent employees? There’s honestly no good way to do this. It’s probably going to boil down to one of the following regardless of who you are or where you work.
- Arbitrary factors that have no meaning to the value someone brings like tenure: who’s been here longer.
- Last action taken factors. Have you ever heard that one mistake erases a dozen good deeds?: Whoever messed up most recently.
- Factors that make the decision in your head but you can’t ever say out loud because they are HR violations: Sarah/Henry is the sole bread winner in their family, so I can’t let them go. (I’ve seen this one happen.)
Now if 8 of my remaining 9 have differentiated themselves and the 9th is an excellent technical contributor, with outstanding work ethic among a company where there are a lot of those, I know who to cut. Obviously team member 9 is excellent, I have no complaints with them, what they do daily is commendable, it just isn’t differentiated. Worse, maybe it is differentiated but I don’t know how it is.
Take this thought experiment one step further. Let’s say all 9 of my remaining team members are excellent and visibly differentiated after selecting the dud for the cut. This poses a brilliant opportunity for me, and them. I can now use the 3–Ds’ of Winning to identify that unique, differentiated value-proposition and communicate it to my leader.
I can make a very valid case for why I can only cut one from my team. I have a real opportunity to remove the hard decision, and keep my high-performance team in tact. This is not theoretical, this happens regularly. Ever notice those leaders that only make shallow cuts, if any at all? This is what they’re doing.
I hope that quick example shows you both how important the 3–Ds of Winning are, and how widely applicable they’ll be for you. So where do you start? For the following I’m going to focus on the idea of defining your own value for the purpose of salary/promotion negotiation or a job-interview. I’ll leave it to you to make the simple fluid wording adjustments to apply the same questions, and concepts to your team, your product, your company, etc.
Define Your Value
The questions are easy, the answers take thought, self-reflection, and time. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable because you need to really sell yourself here.
- What unique value do I bring? Are you a nurse that served two combat tours as a medic in the Army. You probably have a unique threshold for stress and an amazing ability to triage that your fellow ER nurses can’t even compare to. Define it!
- What unique experience, or perspective do I have that provides value to my role? Did you come into the country as an immigrant refugee, sacrifice your medical degree because the US doesn’t recognize it, relearn a new trade, scrape your way to where you are? HOLY SHIT! That’s powerful, that’s grit, determination, adaptability. Define it!
- What skills do you have that your peers don’t? Are you a UI designer that happens to have a minor in psychology with a passion for pricing? That’s crazy powerful, especially if you’re working for a company that does online or mobile retail. Define it!
- What do you do well that your peers don’t? You work in technical marketing now, but your major was English Literature because you always wanted to be an author? That’s beautiful, you have a unique ability to weave white-papers into relatable stories that help impart information and sell product value. Define it!
These are just examples, formulate your own, or grab a book on the subject. The key is to express who you are, and what you do in succinct value statements.
Here’s one of mine I bring a unique ability to communicate information, regardless of the format. My super power is making the complex relatable.
Step back once you have your value statements. Think about those statements from the perspective of the person who needs to buy that value. I find it easiest to start with what they don’t care about. It narrows the process down quickly.
I’ll stick with me as the example. Maybe my direct manager doesn’t care bout communication in my role, maybe they want me heads down building technical architecture guidelines rooted in system configuration. Does that mean I don’t have unique value. I hope not (although in my case, many would argue yes.) Time to modify my value statement.
My ability to communicate information allows me to make the architectural relatable, bringing business relevance and readability to system configuration.
I haven’t changed the root value at all, I simply word-smithed it into a format that relates more directly to my intended audience. This step is key. Gas mileage isn’t relevant to someone buying a Corvette in order to go 0–60 in 2.8 seconds. Pick a value that can apply, then make it apply. Try to come up with 3 tailored value statements.
Run them through a litmus test for differentiation. Could any of my peers theoretically say me too? If so, it’s time to play with them a little more until they are uniquely differentiated. Back to myself as an example. Maybe I’m on a team of brilliant people, maybe two of them can do this as well, or close enough that it doesn’t matter. I’m obviously not going to go competitive against my peers, so to avoid that I need to differentiate more.
My ability to communicate information allows me to make the architectural relatable bringing business relevance and readability to system configuration. The unique value I bring is in tying the business outcome to the technology.
Now I’m separated from the pack, without undermining anyone else. Where I’m unique is understanding the business and bringing the conversation down from that level. My peers still have room for differentiation, they can go deeper and swim with the propeller heads, fantastic! Overall you need both.
This tends to be the hardest piece, especially for people who are extremely technical or extremely humble. The only solution is practice. You can’t expect people to always see your value, if you aren’t willing to guide them. Your leaders are worried about this for themselves, at the same time they are for their team. Meanwhile the have a job to do, it’s easy for you and your value to get lost in the noise.
Start with a video camera or mirror, practice communicating this value. Read some books on this subject, and find ways to start communicating in public. Pipe up in meetings, attend toast-masters, stand up at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and tell your story. Where you do it is irrelevant, that you do it is imperative.
My accompanying video: https://youtu.be/3E7kdpntsaY
For more on the overall subject of Career and Salary negotiation check out my YouTube channel on the subject. Plenty of content there, and more coming every week:
You can also grab a shirt or mug to remind you that it’s Your Career | Your Rules: https://teespring.com/stores/define-the-cloud