On being ... taken with a grain of salt

By Ingrid Sapona

One of my sisters is particularly rule bound. If someone tells her she can’t do X, she doesn’t do it. I, on the other hand, am not particularly rule bound. Indeed, this difference has become a running joke between us: behaviour I rationalize as fulfilling the spirit of particular rules she’s more likely to see as simply breaking the rules. That said, if I agree to do something, or to join some organization, my inclination to follow the rules fairly strictly is much stronger.

Recently a business contact invited me to her business networking group. The group meets weekly over lunch. Though I’m not fond of support-type groups, her casual “come on, everyone eats lunch, so why not join us one week?” seemed reasonable, so I agreed to go.

Shortly after I arrived, I realized the group was a chapter of an organization I had been completely turned off by a few years ago. Since I couldn’t very well leave, I decided to make the best of it. The meeting had some of the flavour of the previous session I had attended (for example, we all had to stand up and describe our business in 60 seconds or less), but the demographics of the people and their businesses was much more aligned with me and my business than that other group was.

As the lunch unfolded, I was impressed with how results-oriented the group and the individuals were. The stated purposes of the group are to provide business referrals to other members (at each meeting, each member is expected to stand up and tell of the referrals they made or received that week) and to provide moral support for each other. All the members seemed self-motivated, yet they also seemed to relish the support and encouragement of the others. As importantly, they seemed collegial, open, and non-competitive with each other.

After the meeting I was given an application, but there was no pressure put on me, and no sales job. All the way home my head was spinning, thinking of the pros and cons of joining. I found the idea daunting because I’ve never been big on setting specific monetary or growth targets for my business. I also wondered whether, and to what extent, I’d be able to make referrals to the others. At the same time, I felt that if I’m open to it, I could probably learn a thing or two from them.

A couple things on the application gave me particular pause. I was especially concerned by questions about what I’d be able to contribute to the group, and whether I could commit to attending every week and to finding a substitute to attend in my absence. As well, the fee for joining is rather high. Clearly, if I were to join, I’d have to rationalize it as an investment in my business.

I also went on-line to learn more about the organization. As I thought, members are expected to adopt various business and marketing strategies it has developed. The methods are, no doubt, tried and true, but, historically, I’ve always shied away from such approaches. That said, I couldn’t help but think that maybe it’s time I try a more formalized approach to building my business. I also had to be honest with myself and consider whether I’m truly willing to commit the time and energy it will take to learn and apply their methodologies. (After all, I do believe there’s a direct relationship between the energy you put into things and what you get out of them.)

A few days later I spoke with the woman who had invited me. I told her of my concerns about the commitment to make referrals and about finding people to sub for me. During our conversation she casually mentioned she wasn’t able to go to the next meeting. On hearing this, I blurted out that I’d be happy to go in her place.

She accepted my offer and thanked me. I was surprised that she hadn’t already found someone else, and that made me wonder about how seriously they take the commitment to finding a sub. At the next meeting I paid attention to whether others had sent subs. Though it was noted that one member not attending hadn’t sent a sub, I was a bit relieved when no further comment was made regarding the apparent breach of that rule.

My previous impressions were reinforced at that second meeting, and after a bit more thought, I decided to apply. I figure there’s a 50/50 chance they’ll accept me into the group. When I submitted my application I was anxious, but excited. I was nervous about the commitments I was agreeing to regarding the group, and about the commitment I was making to myself regarding adopting the organization’s approach.

The application made it clear they’d check my references (trying to determine, I guess, whether my business is as established as I claim) and it also said the membership committee would notify prospective members of their acceptance or non-acceptance before the group’s next meeting. Fair enough, I thought.

Well, it’s been almost four weeks since I applied, and I’ve not heard anything. Out of curiosity, last week I phoned my references to see whether they’ve been contacted, and they haven’t been. Hmmm… so much for their rules, procedures, and commitments!

This little lapse in procedure has left me feeling conflicted. Part of me thinks I should withdraw my application because clearly they don’t do as they say. For now, however, I’ve decided to hold steady. As I see it, if they reject me, that’s life. If they take me, I’ll do my best to live up to what I’ve committed to, but I won’t worry too much if I fall a bit short on some of the rules some of the time. After all, as I’ve often said to my sister, some rules are meant to be taken with a grain of salt…

© 2008 Ingrid Sapona