Have you ever tried to define your essence? That is, those attributes that define you, and make you "you" and not "someone else"? Trust me, it's harder than it sounds.

Image of Todd Herman

Why Find Your Essence?

Why take the time and do the work to define your essence? Because once you're clear about this, you can more readily evaluate whether someone or something is a "fit" for your company.

Here are two common examples within Todd Herman Associates, which apply to all companies and which illustrate why it's important to be clear about your unique qualities.

  • For potential clients – Assessing whether a particular company needs our services at a particular point in time is a key part of my job. The bigger question, however, is this – whether that company will ever understand "the way we do things here" and find value in that.
  • For potential associates – I interview candidates thoroughly, because I'm trying to assess whether someone contains our essence. To me, being choosy is the right and fair thing for the person, our clients, and the THA brand.

For the right potential client, we may be just what is needed, when it is needed. For the right job seeker, you may be just what we need, when we need it.

Defining the Essence of THA

Recently, it was my turn to host the monthly meeting for a business group to which I belong – and it's traditional for the host to make a presentation on his or her business to the other members. About a week before the meeting date, I met with my Manager of Marketing and Business Development to update and refine our last host presentation, and left her with only a few vague ideas of what we might do differently this year.

Red umbrella surrounded by white umbrellas.

When we met a few days later, I saw she had taken the bull by the horns. Her draft had a COMPLETELY different approach from anything we had ever done before – and I really liked what she'd done!

What she wanted to do was communicate the ESSENCE of Todd Herman Associates – that is, what makes THA "THA" – and she needed some help distilling this. Since she'd been with us for just over a year, I asked her to give me a few examples of things that have impressed her about the firm. She thought a moment, and listed several excellent examples we both agreed represented THA at its "finest and best" and ... we still had trouble describing this. We decided we would think further about this, and come back with ideas in a few days.

I was stuck, so I did what I always do in this situation – I rummaged through my Idea Bins and my library. In these, I found ...

idea bin

  • An article by Thomas L. Friedman with the clever title, "It's the PQ and the CQ as Much as the IQ". Interestingly, he keeps the reader in suspense about the meaning of PQ and CQ,until the middle of the final paragraph.
  • An illustration in Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play (Revised Edition), by Mahan Khalsa and Raldy Illig relating BQ, EQ, and XQ.
  • A blog post by Seth Godin, "'No' to average", where I had highlighted two key ideas:
    • Say 'no' to being average.
    • It's really scary to turn down most (the average) of what comes your way and hold out for the remarkable opportunities.

Okay, now let's see how these snippets help form THA's essence.

The DNA of THA

THA is not average – we're not a commodity, and we don't neatly fit into ANY category in the Yellow Pages. The best way to distill things is ...

We are very strong business people who are incredibly clever in using technology to solve business challenges.

Here's a good example of how we combine business knowledge and technology skills to help our clients. Several years ago, I was teaching my "Implementing the Big Picture" seminar to a group of several executives and top managers at one of my long-time clients. At the end, the CFO of this publicly-traded company said,

"Todd, we've been using some very high-priced consultants out of Boston to help us plan several strategic goals – and you've explained things better in one hour than they did in their entire engagement!"

I thanked him for the compliment and – wouldn't you know – I got a call the next month about doing a data warehouse project (one of my client's strategic goals) for them ... which we did and did very nicely! See the Case Study Here

People often look at the output of our work, and assume it was only about the technology – yet forget ...

  • How many questions we asked to analyze their business, its needs, and desired results.
  • How we then collaboratively worked with many folks in the business to shape the final solution.

Questions are how we analyze the business and form ideas for our clients to consider – and a collaborative work style is how we pitch in and become part of a client's team to get things done.

Those clever abbreviations from the article and the book? I simplified them, and then developed an "equation" reflecting five qualities in everyone's DNA at THA.

THA = BQ + EQ + XQ + PQ + CQ

where ...

BQ = Business Thinking Quotient
EQ = Emotionally Intelligent Communication Quotient
XQ = Execution Quotient
PQ = Passion Quotient
CQ = Curiosity Quotient

The BQ (Business Thinking) and EQ (Emotionally Intelligent Communication) skills are reasonably common in business today – if you can't do those two fairly well, you really can't go too far in a company. The XQ (Execution) skill is also fairly common – lots of people can get things done.

The trouble with XQ skills – they can be applied with a fist or with an open hand. Many people rely on positional authority to get things done by decree. We can't use decrees because we have no direct control over client personnel – and even if we did, we would lose the buy-in so essential to a project's success.

Thus, to get things done, we add the PQ (Passion) trait to yield excellent client service. While "passion" implies "intensity", it also cannotes "warmth" and "caring." Practicing caring intensity to get things done – that's a good way to describe how we want our clients to feel about us.

The fifth quality? The CQ (Curiosity) trait is what really sets us apart. You see, I'm incredibly curious – I always like to understand how things work, to find cause-and-effect connections, and to learn continuously. When I'm interviewing someone, if I don't hear about continued learning experiences – either formal or informal – or sense a natural curiosity or a thirst for learning, I quickly move on to the next candidate.

Read about identifying your company's "secret sauce".

How You Can Find Your Company's Essence

How can you find your company's essence? Those attributes that uniquely define your company? As I said in the opening, it's harder than it sounds. Here's some suggestions to get you started:

  • Search the Internet for "values list" – you'll find plenty of results! The idea is to find a large list of adjectives related to values, review the list, and determine the dozen or so which begin to get at your company's essence.
  • Review my tips to improve your creativity.
  • Ask your newest employees why they chose to work at your company.
  • Ask your referral sources how they describe your company, and what words or phrases they hear to trigger a referral to you.
  • Ask your clients or customers what they think about you – or, better yet, how they FEEL about you.
  • Compile all this, and sit with the ideas for a while – and then put it away for at least a week.
  • Bring out the items you compiled, review these, and sit with the ideas for a while.
  • Repeat the previous two steps until you ...
  • Have the insight allowing you to filter all the ideas down to an essential five or so qualities.
  • Determine HOW these qualities relate to each other, and WHY these qualities uniquely define your company.

My best suggestion? Be patient and stick with the process. The steps listed above put ideas into your conscious, rational mind, so that – while you're sleeping or when you're inspired – your subconscious, creative mind can use these ideas as its playthings. Unfortunately, creativity can't be forced – it can, however, be coaxed and nourished.

In Closing

Here's a quote that speaks to me about THA's distinctive CQ (Curiosity):

"Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment."
– Rumi

Finding your company's essence – those attributes uniquely defining your company – is harder than it sounds. It is, however, worth the effort to find because – whether past, present, or future – your essence remains the same and shapes everything you do.


Todd L. Herman