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Relate Advocacy’s first year has been a roller-coaster. Thankfully we’ve had more ups than downs.

This is the first time in my career that I’ve had to run nearly every aspect of every advocacy campaign I’ve touched. Whether in-house or at a larger agency, I was always blessed to work with a larger group of people who knew their stuff, which meant I was free to stay focused.

Working on every single detail of every campaign has made 2017 a year of learning. I want to end the year by sharing the most important of these lessons:

1. Be defined by what you give. We have the privilege of working with clients in the behavioral health space. Everyone we work with is mindful of making sure that everything they do benefits the community of vulnerable people that they’re entrusted with helping. They only want to be judged based on the lives they improve.

This is a powerful litmus test I’ve used on other projects. Too often clients get busy creating communications strategies, editorial calendars, etc., that are focused on how to engage an audience that will help them achieve their goals, rather than focusing on how being of service to that audience–solving their problems–will advance the organization’s goals.

Can you clearly describe how your advocacy strategy adds more value to advocates’ daily lives? Advocates, consciously or not, are making this calculation after each communication.

If you’re improving lives, your other goals should take care of themselves.

2. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. I wrote a bit about this earlier in the year. I’ve been programmed to worry about one campaign at a time and to make sure the results were good.

Focusing on the end result of one campaign–the destination–puts the organization’s needs ahead of the advocates’. We get focused on the recruit-engage-mobilize paradigm that, by definition, makes advocates a means to an end. It’s a short-term play in what, for most organizations, is a long-term game. It’s playing checkers instead of chess.

Prioritizing advocate relationship building–the journey–builds trust and earns attention. Building relationships doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. A phone call that shows you remembered a birthday or promotion. A personalized text message with an update on their most important issue. The small things add up to something big. Every organization can do the small things.

Figure out how you can build relationships and incorporate your issue communications along the way. This relatively small shift in perspective sets-up your organization for bigger success over the long-term.

3. Assume you’re wrong. I saved what I think is the most important lesson for last. Thanks to Ray Dalio for helping me succinctly describe it.

I’ve always felt like there’s a premium placed on being right–all the time. That’s what clients are ultimately paying a consultant for, right?

I internalized this need and, to my detriment, carried it with me into every conversation with clients and colleagues (and, as my wife would likely agree, all of my personal conversations, too). It’s awfully hard to find the best answer when all I’ve focused on is arguing for why my answer is right.

Working with my partners at Relate, John and Andrew, on literally every client project has radically shifted my perspective. There’s an unspoken bond of trust that develops when the best answer always has to come from our three minds. Individual achievement has become indistinguishable from that of the company. Since we either all succeed or all fail, my ego couldn’t survive.

Over the course of the year, I was forced to get comfortable with the idea of being influenced by my colleagues. Sometimes I had good ideas. Sometimes I had a good idea that turned out to be bad. Sometimes I had bad ideas that helped to find the best idea. Most importantly, I came to understand that all of these experiences are valuable.

As our client projects multiplied, I’ve learned more by coming up with an idea and preparing for a conversation by just assuming that it’s wrong. There’s no ego to be bruised. I listen better. Our conversations are more productive. We come up with better answers in a shorter amount of time.

Looking back, I’d agree that, yes, clients are paying for the right answers. But I think it’s more accurate to say that clients are really paying for a process that generates the best answer.

Maybe, the less you know, the better counselor you become.

Ultimately, these lessons all point to what I think is a fundamental truth: your capacity for learning and your ego are inversely related. Mastering this reality feels like a good goal for 2018.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned this year? Drop me a line at mike@relateadvocacy.com.

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