Intentions vs. Perception

07/06/2011 12:30 pm ET | Updated Sep 05, 2011
  • Robbie Vorhaus Speaker, advisor, and teacher on authenticity and the clarity of purpose and vision.

"I'm paying for this?" was the client's first remark after looking around our beautiful, new Manhattan offices, adding, "And good luck on the overhead."

I was shocked.  We had just completed an expensive, six-month build-out of the 16th floor at 1700 Broadway, directly across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater, home to "The Late Show with David Letterman," and I was certain that our clients and employees would be proud of the space.  But they weren't.

My intention as the owner of Vorhaus & Company Public Relations, and my clients' perception as paying customers, were diametrically opposed.

Our first office in New York City was 310 Madison, at the corner of 42nd Street, catty-cornered to Grand Central Terminal (inside New York City tip: It's Grand Central Terminal, not Grand Central Station).  With just a few rooms, we crammed a lot of very talented PR professionals into a few thousand square feet, and in a couple of years and a number of big client wins, including H.J. Heinz, Domino's Pizza, Pfizer, Keebler and Buick, we quickly outgrew the space.

Representing global Fortune 500 companies, I thought our clients would want us, their PR firm, to have a new, gorgeous, professional office exuding success.  And for recruiting purposes, potential Vorhaus employees would be attracted to a fun, expansive and highly designed space.  I was wrong on both counts.

Our clients didn't care what our office looked like.  They just wanted us to produce exceptional results at a fair price.  And our employees didn't care, either; they just wanted to work in a clean space and be paid well and treated fairly.  Our clients saw the fancy space as expensive overhead that they would be shouldering in their fees, and our employees saw the well-appointed space as a sign that we were wildly profitable and could pay them more.

Despite the best of intentions, without truly understanding my clients' and employees' perceptions, I made a costly mistake that, had I taken a few extra steps, could have easily been avoided.  That won't happen again.

Although I would like believing I'm fairly intuitive, I am always surprised and enlightened by others' insight and perceptions regarding my choices.  And just as a smart trial lawyer won't ask a question he or she doesn't already know the answer to (or a proficient writer won't let a participle dangle), it's important knowing in advance what the perceptions of your intentions are.

Do your intentions align with the perceptions of your board, investors, leadership team, customers, suppliers, employees, regulators, subordinates, competitors and the media?  Are your intentions perceived to be in the best interest of the people your decision will impact? Consider these points the next time you need to make significant decisions with a long-term impact:

1. Know Your Story Cold.

What is your intention?  What's the reason for your decision?  What's your unique point of view? If your intention is the main character, the hero of the story, what or who is the antagonist, the opposing force to your desire?  What are the implications of your decision, and what is your desired outcome?  What's your benchmark for success?  Does your intention have a definitive beginning (past), middle (present), and end (future) for the story?  How well can you articulate this story, and can others tell the story, too?

2.  Identify And Understand Your Audience.

What is your intended response from your decision?  Who are the influencers in each group, such as employees, institutional investors and key media, and how do they perceive this decision?  Do they truly represent the whole?  What are the key benefits for each specific audience, and are they clear?  What are the main objections to your decision, and is any resistance valid and directly opposed to your intentions?

3. Be The Light, Not The Bulb.

Focus on the outcome, not the course of action.  There are 1,000 roads to Mecca , and this process of discovery is to avoid surprises and resistance, not declare war or impose your will on others.  You may discover that your intentions are completely understood and welcomed with open arms.  But more than likely, your intentions will be misperceived and possibly opposed, and it's your job to ferret out the potential road blocks and create a new and well received plan for success.

Align your intentions with others' perceptions and you will ultimately improve your chances for success.

What other tips have you found successful for aligning intentions with perceptions?

A version of this piece originally appeared at

This Blogger's Books and Other Items from...