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Jennifer Wilson
Six ways you can earn loyalty

The good news is that it’s a process you control.

July 1, 2013
by Jennifer Wilson

“Where’s the loyalty?” I’m asked this question often by practitioners when we discuss the increasingly tight labor market, turnover that now occurs even in busy season, clients who price-shop, and more. And I’ve been wondering whether loyalty is lost. Is it a thing of the past, another idea from the good old days that has no place in the new economy or with this next generation?

But then I look at the Millennials with their Apple conviction and Starbucks addiction, which look like “old fashioned” brand loyalty to me. And I manage Millennials as employees and clients (and am raising some, too). I see them exhibit loyalty to one another, to me, to brands, to their schools, and more.

So if loyalty is lost, I believe it isn’t disappearing on its own and it isn’t gone from every place or relationship. Instead, the loss of loyalty seems situational—meaning that when you think it’s missing, then something is causing it to erode. To help stop this loyalty erosion, let’s explore how loyalty is formed and lost and how we can earn it back.

We become loyal when we believe in something or someone. We exhibit loyal behaviors when we trust that the person or thing we’re loyal to will be good to us and will follow through on promises made. We are loyal to people or things that we believe enrich our lives.

When loyalty is lost, it’s because we’ve done something that’s eroded trust. We haven’t put others’ best interests in front of our own. We’ve failed to keep our word or promises, or we haven’t enriched others as much as we have been enriched—meaning we’ve gotten more out of the relationship than they have.

Loyalty is something that is developed—or lost—as a direct result of our own actions, behaviors, and motives. The bad news is that when you’re experiencing a lack of loyalty from others, it’s because of something you’ve done—or not done. The good news is that earning loyalty is within your control. Let’s explore six ways you can earn back loyalty in your accounting practice:

  • Give hope: Develop a unified vision on where your firm will be in five years. Gather input from all generations and disciplines in the firm. Make sure the vision represents the voice of your young people, because they will inherit the result and carry it into the future. Help your clients develop their own five-year vision, too, for their organizations and themselves individually. Invest the time to give your people and clients something in their future that they can believe in. (For more on developing a vision, see my June 2012 column “Does Your Firm Have a Vision for Its Future?”)
  • Make and keep promises: Be clear about what you stand for as an individual and as an organization. Define your values and make sure your behavior mirrors what you say you’re committed to or believe in. Carefully make commitments so that you don’t overcommit and underdeliver. Clarify your firm’s brand promise for employees and clients—which is something like, “When you work with us, you will experience FILL IN THE BLANK.” Then invest in delivering on your unique brand promise every day.
  • Follow through: Do the proactive work needed to make your firm’s and clients’ visions reality. Keep your promises and commitments—no matter what the effort. Don’t allow yourself to rationalize not producing your committed results. Excuses erode loyalty while results rebuild it.
  • Admit failure: When you make a mistake, miss a commitment, or don’t meet an objective, be transparent, honest, and humble enough to admit it. Apologize without excuse and ask what you can do to overcome any challenge the failure has created. Affirmatively commit to changed behavior in the future—and then follow through.
  • Deliver real ROI: Pay attention to how much value others are getting in their relationships with you and your firm. Loyalty is highest when people feel they are getting more value than they are giving. Can you say that is the case for your people? Too often, we talk about our employees needing to “pay their dues”—which sounds a lot like giving without getting much back. Also, are your clients getting more value than they expect? Figure out how to deliver more value in your relationships. This almost always means putting your selfish interests aside, investing first, and trusting that you’ll see the benefits of your investments later. When was the last time you gave without the expectation of something in return? Make a commitment to do something small for one team member and one client each week without reciprocation and see how your relationships will shift and loyalty will rise.
  • Give it first: Donald T. Regan, former U.S. Treasury secretary, said, “You’ve got to give loyalty down, if you want loyalty up.” How loyal are you to your clients, partners and team members? How much faith and trust do you exhibit? How much leeway do you give them when they make a mistake or admit a failure? To earn the loyalty of others, your behaviors and actions have to reflect that you’re loyal first.

Simon Mainwaring, the New York Times best-selling author, wrote “… the first companies that make an effort to develop an authentic, transparent, and meaningful social contract with their fans and customers will turn out to be the ones that are the most successful in the future. While brands that refuse to make the effort will lose stature and customer loyalty.”

Don’t complain about a loss of loyalty as if it’s a social issue you can’t resolve. Instead, get together with your leadership team and talk about the six things that nurture loyalty. Honestly assess how you’re doing as a firm and individually in each area. Develop a plan to improve in the areas where you have room—and watch the loyalty you experience from others grow.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.