“It’s like watching a train wreck”. I’ve heard this expression several times and repeated it myself often, especially since starting consulting several years ago. And it seems like a few client engagements in 2011 have been train wrecks of sorts.
I usually look forward to these types of engagements. Usually these opportunities present quite a bit of “low hanging fruit” to help the company in question make a few tweaks and modifications to drastically improve outcomes. Many times, this type of scenario works out well, allowing us to establish a strong bond and rapport of trust very quickly.
However, there are those occasions where this type of scenario never pans out. We are nearing the end of one of these engagements now. We’ve been working for the client for several months. From day one, we quickly identified several opportunities to improve the situation. We shared our findings and were ready to start making progress. But the culture of the client wasn’t ready to tackle the solutions quite yet. So we moved on to the next set of issues. Same result.
This cycle repeated itself over and over during the course of the engagement. Now as we prepare to wrap up our engagement, I’m reflecting back on this experience to see what lessons I can take away and what milestones we were actually able to achieve. Finding significant milestones is tough. Yes, we did make a few improvements, albeit very minor in the grand scheme of things. But there are a few lessons I’ve learned:
- Be sure executive management is on board. If not, it will be a bumpy ride.
- Determine who the go to people are at the company. Just because someone is in a certain role with a certain title doesn’t mean this person has the necessary knowledge and expertise to be an asset. Just as important, there are people “hidden” within the company who possess a wealth of knowledge. These are the people to seek out and find as early as possible.
- Give the client a “warm fuzzy” by showing progress sooner, even if what has been requested is a huge nebulous cluster. Figure out a way to deliver some work product for near immediate feedback. Don’t just put your head down and chip away at the big, hairy item requested.
- Sometimes the client doesn’t know what they want, need, or asked for. Figure out what the client knows and doesn’t know. If there is something the client doesn’t know, help educate them. Use objective evidence, such as FDA regulations, as a reference rather than just sharing your own personal experiences and opinions.
- Find the people who don’t want you there and who are constantly trying to undermine your efforts. These people often feel threatened by your presence. Try to turn them into allies. Try to help them with their needs.
- Be firm, yet fair. Rather than try to place the nice guy all the time, be objective. Clients deep down do appreciate truth, even if it might sting a little.