Monday, August 29, 2011

Birds of a Feather – Are you defined by who you “hang with?”

As life progresses, I seem to come more and more back to the lessons taught to me by my parents. Growing up in New York City, my parents were understandably concerned about whom we chose as friends – who we chose to “hang with.” My mother would always say “birds of a feather flock together” – smart people associate with smart people, honest people tend to be around other honest people, achievers group with achievers, etc.

Brands are like coffee beans. Several years ago, I read a book about branding by Scott Bedbury who was one of the primary architects of the Starbucks brand. He said, “Brands are like coffee beans, highly sensitive sponges that absorb whatever odor is around them. And they don’t discriminate between the good, the bad, and the ugly.” You are the sum total of all of the best experiences and the worst experiences of your customers with you, your employees and contractors, your partners, your suppliers.

Recently, I questioned why a colleague referred to a client a firm known for trying to be all things to all people, therefore delivering lower quality services. The colleague replied, “because they provide us with referrals.” If you have no standards of excellence for your referrals, what does that say about the quality of your firm? And if a company with a spotty reputation refers your organization, what can someone infer about you and your organization?

Some folks may think that this is too strong a stance. There are numerous people out in the market that did not make the cut as a partner or associate of our firm. We have built our firm’s reputation over the last 30 years by recruiting and retaining only the best talent that is focused on client service, maintaining a high degree of integrity and professionalism, and seeking to associate with those of like mind. We only refer to our clients and friends those that demonstrate similar qualities.

Is this old-fashioned. In this era of social networking – Facebook friending and LinkedIn connections – there seems to be less concern for standards. People connect or friend with anyone and everyone who asks. One of my sons says that people no longer make judgments about you based on your associations – that it’s an old-fashioned notion.

Is that true? Does my mother’s “birds of a feather” caution still hold? Or, has it gone the way of the rolodex?


  1. Good questions. I am not sure it still holds true across the board. I think there is opportunity to expand your thinking when you link with or follow someone you might not normally associate with outside the cyber world. There are some that will ask to link with you simply because they are trying to sell you something or hope that you will provide them access to someone else but I find that's not the case most times. I don't link with everyone who asks but most of the time after reviewing a profile of someone I don't know and having an online exchange I will say yes. So far its been a good experience. I've gotten some interesting connections and ideas that way.

  2. Martha,
    I agree with you that if you have an exchange whether its in person or online, you can begin to develop a relationship. I have some relationships that started that way that have lasted for years. I'm more referring to the notion that people connect with no prior exchange.

  3. Dave: Very appropriate conversation. I just had this conversation with a friend about FB and how so many people connect with anyone and everyone. I'm still an advocate of "less is more". I absolutely agree with your comments about who folks associate with. For example, I can't imagine I'd ever consider working with Walmart. I despise virtually everything they stand for. What would that then say about me if I accepted a contract from them? In addition, I have "unfriended" folks and decline invitations to my professional network many many times.

  4. While I think it's pervasive with FB and Linked in, I also see this with some of the 30's and early 40's "rising stars" who want to be sure they do not miss an opportunity and thus are not very discriminating with whom they associate.