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Getting to Agreement

Getting to Agreement
Getting to Agreement

We live in divided times today. And as much as we want to complain about it, it is nothing new. Abraham Lincoln famously said “a house divided cannot stand.” There are many examples of major disagreements throughout history. We humans can be a disagreeable group of people.

You see it on projects on a daily basis. We disagree about how to implement software and who to hire for a project. Different people disagree in different ways. Some people get mad and start to yell when someone disagrees with them. Others stay calm and try to plead their case.

Can’t we all just get along?

A good consultant is able to work with diverse people with diverse goals and diverse opinions. They figure out how to “herd the cats” in the direction of a successful engagement.

Here are some tips on bringing people together and getting to agreement when warring factions butt heads.

What problem are you trying to solve? When people disagree, sometimes they are simply disagreeing on what the actual problem is. The first step is to make sure they agree with what they are trying to solve. This gives them a common vision and the first step toward agreeing with each other.

What assumptions are you working with? In the U.S., we have Republicans and Democrats. There are two primary differences between them. The first is the role of government. Republicans want a limited role, while Democrats usually advocate more government involvement. The second is taxation. Republicans want lower taxes, particularly for the rich. Democrats want to tax the rich to pay for the increased government programs.

Each group is working on diametrically opposed assumptions. Trying to bring them to agreement is a great challenge because of the vast difference in their assumptions.

What do you agree on? Try to find areas where they agree. Most Republicans and most Democrats agree on world peace. They may disagree on how to get there, but finding their common beliefs and values is a great starting point.

Finding as many points of agreement as possible, not only provides a starting point, it develops trust between the two. When they realize how much they have in common, they realize that they are not that different. They’re likely to approach their differences in a more cooperative light.

Find a middle ground. Once you have identified their areas of agreement, it might be easier to identify opportunities for compromise. Points of agreement are a bridge; a meeting of the minds. With that connection point, you can begin breaking down additional walls to see if there is any point of compromise.

The tricky aspect of compromise is that both sides need to give a little. But it takes one person to start the process. If you can convince one person to give in a little, it sets the example to his counterpart. They will be challenged to give some more. It may take each side to give just a little in multiple alternating sequences to get anywhere.

This is the hardest part. When arbitrating this between two sides, it usually requires creativity. Providing hypothetical situations can force each side to see the other person’s perspective. You might describe scenarios where one person’s approach would fail and their counterpart’s would be successful.

Based on their deeply-held assumptions, they may think your scenario is unlikely or impossible. It is your job to convince them that it may be more realistic than they think. This should be done as equally as possible with both sides of the argument.

The ultimate creative solution may look completely different than what either side proposed. The critical point is to make both of them feel like they own the solution together.

Document any agreement. You probably won’t succeed every time. Some sides are just too stubborn. They may be under too much pressure from their factions to give an inch to compromise. But if you are successful at getting either side to compromise, make sure that it is written down and published. This enforces the agreement and reduces the chance of either team backing out of the agreement.

When documenting the agreement, all credit should go to the warring parties for getting to agreement for the common good.

Conclusion

Whether you live in the political world, the business world, or some other type of community, you will always deal with people who disagree. Some are more willing than others to work towards a solution of compromise. Some simply can’t be budged. But working in a strategic, creative, and methodical approach with two groups that disagree can help in getting to agreement.

Have you ever been successful facilitating two parties to agreement?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Overplaying Your Leverage

Overplaying your leverage
Overplaying your leverage

Our current president has been given the opportunity of doing something that many new presidents do. With his party holding a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, he has leverage.

This gives him the ability to push legislation through congress with relative ease. Bill Clinton and Barak Obama both started their presidencies with majorities in both houses.

This led them to use their leverage to push legislation through congress as well. But those two former presidents lost those majorities in the mid-term elections two years later.

While there are many factors involved, it is safe to say that taking advantage of their majority leverage may have offended some voters. This could have caused them to swing to the opposite party when voting for congressmen two years later.

I’ve seen similar occurrences in the business world. Someone has a very powerful position and uses it to manipulate people. Sometimes they mistreat their employees, making them do unpleasant tasks or publicly berating them. Sometimes they force policy through to the chagrin of their peers within the company.

But the same thing can happen that happened to the former presidents. Someday that powerful manager is going to need something from some of those people he was so abusive to. Then they learn a valuable lesson: Overplaying your leverage has political consequences. Those people may be a lot less willing to cooperate with someone who showed them no respect in the past.

While working in business and politics are different animals, we all know that there are plenty of politics that go on in the business world. It may be necessary to “play nice” with people even if you have the power to be otherwise.

As a parent, some of the best advice I received from a friend was to pick your battles. Kids get out of line a lot. If I had reprimanded them every time, that’s all I would have done. And the kids would probably get pretty tired of my demands.

I learned that you let some things go and pick the fights that are worth fighting.

Two types of power

The same thing goes for getting things done at work. You could force things through with all of your power. But that could be short lived. In the business world, you have two types of power, official and unofficial power.

Official power is the power that the company bestows on you for your position. If you’re the boss, you have official power over the people that report to you.

Unofficial power is what you get from people that will help you out. If you are nasty to the people that work for you, they will probably do the minimum work that they must do under your official power. But if you treat them well and they respect you, they will give you additional unofficial power. This will likely get more done for you by your people.

You get unofficial power from other people within the organization. When you cooperate with your peers and help them get what they want, they will likely grant you unofficial power. You will get their cooperation for help on a project or to help get a policy changed.

Overplaying your leverage can hurt both types of power. You don’t get much unofficial power if you are seen overplaying your leverage too often. It could also stunt your growth in the company. Make enough people mad and the word gets out that you’re not a team player. If that gets back to the executives, they may be more likely to pass you up for that next promotion. That’s a big hit to your official power if you can’t build on it.

So here are some tips for balancing your power in the workplace.

Play nice. Perhaps you have a powerful position. You may be able to get your way at the expense of another department’s manager. But you may need that manager’s help someday. Establishing a reputation as a team player could give you more unofficial power than your official power. And that could come in handy.

Treat people like you would like to be treated. Some see it as a sign of weakness to be nice to people. “I’m not here to be liked. I’m here to get things done.” But being kind and fair is not being weak. In fact, it could give you enough unofficial power to make you much stronger.

Give and take. Some people see everything as a competition that they must win. They don’t stop to think what the other person may want. That type of person doesn’t see win-win scenarios very often. They only see things as win-lose and they don’t want to lose. Open your mind and negotiate with people in a way that will make them want to deal with you again.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It Depends is Always the Answer

It Depends
It Depends

I’ve heard people – mostly clients – that joke about the fact that you have officially made it as a consultant when you learn that the answer to everything is It depends.

There is a lot of truth to that. It’s not a matter of being evasive. And it’s usually not a matter of hiding behind the fact that the consultant doesn’t know the answer.

The answer always raises a client’s eyebrows, if not their blood pressure.

“It was a yes or no question. Can’t you just give me a plain yes or no answer?”

The answer to that is, of course, “It depends.” And there are several reasons for that.

Nothing is black and white – even with facts

Imagine that you are meeting with the CEO of a manufacturing client and she blurts out the question, “Should I invest in additional capacity?”

Would you simply answer “yes” or “no”?

Granted, most clients would provide some context around a question like that. But it is a major decision. There are reasons that the answer would be yes. There are reasons that it would be no.

In business, most decisions like this involve a lot of context. The consultant’s job is to understand the critical components of context and weigh the pros and cons of each decision. They then present reasons for yes and reasons for no and make a recommendations supported with assumptions.

There are many variables involved

Republicans and Democrats love to boast how their own party’s philosophy is better for the economy. Republicans argue that lower taxes stimulate the economy by reinvesting those funds. Conversely, Democrats claim that taxing the rich will fund social programs that will help the poor to be more successful and thus, help the economy.

Both sides argue vehemently that they are proven facts. When the economy is strong, each side points to decisions their party made. When the economy dips, each side blames its opponent’s practices.

The fact is, there are so many factors and inputs that affect the economy, that anyone can blame someone else or take credit.

When a client asks for advice on what to do next, the answer is…it depends. It depends on a thousand external variables that could affect the outcome. In this case, it is the consultant’s job to point out as many of those variables as possible. Then, work with the client on determining their assumptions on how they will affect the decision.

We need to sort out fact from opinion

Decision making is the practice of determining cause and effect. We implement plans with a desired effect. As neutral as we’d like to think we are, we all have our bias.

Do employees perform better under pressure? Or do they do better when you provide positive encouragement? It depends. It depends on who you ask. Ask two managers and you’re likely to get two answers.

This has been a debate in management circles for many years and isn’t likely to be settled any time soon. It is based on the opinion of whom you ask.

Facts are hard to refute and can prove a causal effect. Opinions are based on assumptions. Some people’s opinions are so strong that they mistake them for facts. It is the consultant’s job to diplomatically help sort the two out.

We can’t tell the future

Many decisions are based on speculation. All the signs may indicate that we should invest in additional capacity. But the stock market could crash next week sending the economy into a tailspin.

What sounds like a sound decision today always depends on unknown events that can happen in the future.

A better answer than It depends

Although I argue that “It depends” is a legitimate, and even a necessary response to many client questions, is it the best answer? For many clients, it can sound like a cop out. It’s a way of hiding behind an even less legitimate answer: I don’t know.

Perhaps a better approach is something like, “There are many variables to consider with a decision like this.” Alternatively, complex decisions are rarely black and white. When there are many variables to affect the decision, there are usually many decision options to consider.

When that is the case, consider a decision tree where you can determine the odds of different variables affecting the decision. This can help the client understand the complexity of the decision, while facilitating them to the correct decision.

Conclusion

Clients turn to consultants for decisions. And while consultants want to please the client, their job is to facilitate decisions rather than make decisions for the client. When difficult questions are asked, the answer is almost always that it depends. The consultant’s job is to diplomatically explain what it depends on. This is the best way to help the client make sound decisions. It is the best way for the consultant to become the client’s trusted advisor.

How do you answer your clients’ questions?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Millennials May be the Next Greatest Generation

next greatest generation
Millennials: The next greatest generation?

I can’t remember whether it was on Facebook or Twitter that I saw it. It doesn’t matter. It was just another post slamming the millennial generation. They’re so full of themselves. They’re always staring into their phones. They have such a sense of entitlement.

Some of the posts approach it with pseudo-psychological theories. Social media has turned them into uber-narcissists. The “everybody-gets-a-trophy” syndrome has taught them not to succeed. They have a constant need for attention.

And for every one of those complaints, I can point out some from the millennial generation that fit the description. I’ve worked with millennials right out of college. As a parent, I’ve raised a couple and coached many. I’ve watched a lot of them grow up.

There are many that are major pains in the neck.

But more often than not, they’re great people. They’re responsible hard workers. And they don’t resemble the stereotype that so many people like to describe.

They’re lazy and not driven to succeed

In the 1960s, the old folks worried about the “hippie generation.” They just sat around and smoked pot on campuses to avoid the war. People asked, “Is this our country’s future?”

The answer was a resounding “Yes.” The world may not be perfect today, but we have survived pretty well. That generation brought us some pretty nifty inventions and a thriving stock market.

The millennials that I know are driven to succeed. They’re just driven to a different definition of success than many of us have. It might be a result of everyone getting a trophy. But they don’t see the world as a zero-sum game. They don’t necessarily believe that there must always have be a winner and a loser. They are very collaborative and don’t feel the need to compete with their peers at work. They’re focused on us all succeeding together.

They also see work-life balance as a big factor in success. They don’t necessarily believe that the guy who dies with the most money wins. They see success in quality, not quantity.

They have a sense of entitlement

I have seen this behavior in many millennials. I also saw it in me at that age. I believe it is a symptom that every generation learns once they face the reality of life. Growing up, my parents gave me everything I needed and a lot of things I wanted. It created the byproduct of teaching me that life was easier than it really was. At some point in my life, I started paying for rent, student loans, groceries, etc. I realized that I wasn’t as entitled as I might have thought.

Millennials need to mature in the same way. It may take them longer though. Their parents were more prosperous than any previous generations and bought them a lot more stuff.

They will learn. In the meantime, people tend to get mad at the victims rather than the culprits.

Their faces are glued to their phones

Correct. They do that. But I see people from every generation do it. I look around in restaurants and see middle-age couples dining out and staring in their phones. Although it is illegal in Illinois where I live, I see people of all ages do it while they drive. Many blatantly hold the phone out in front of them blocking their view of traffic.

Granted, I have had to tell some millennials to put their phone away during a meeting. But I see it as a maturation and education issue. If nobody in their past taught them not to do it, teach them.

They are disrespectful

Many years ago, child abuse was swept under the rug. It was rarely brought out in the open. Often, the victim was made to feel at fault.

Today, while it is not reported to the degree it should be, more people are aware of the issue. It is discussed more frequently. Millennial children were taught to speak out.

While some disrespect is attributable to developing some maturity, this generation was taught not to be afraid to speak up. They won’t be intimidated by the older generation. They may need to develop some diplomacy, but most of them will.

Necessity will prevail

In 1997 Tom Brokaw wrote “The Greatest Generation,” about the generation of people who grew up during the Great Depression, and went on to save democracy fighting World War II.

I remember an anecdote Brokaw told in the book about growing up in his small South Dakota hometown. His mother worked in the local post office and a resident came in complaining that some kids had tee-peed some trees in town.

His mother kind of laughed it off and asked flippantly, “Oh Bob, what kinds of things were you doing when you were eighteen years old?”

He looked at her and said, “Liberating France.”

Admittedly, that “Greatest Generation” set a difficult bar for the rest of us. But it was the necessity of the depression and then the war that they were required to step up. I thank them for doing such a great job.

Every generation and every human being reaches a point where they have to step up to survive and to thrive. I’m confident that the millennial generation, and most of the individuals in it, will do that.

Every generation also reaches an age where they forget how self-consumed and entitled they were in their youth. It’s a generational tradition to condemn the succeeding generation for much of the same things they did when they were the same age.

Maybe we didn’t have smart phones at that age. But we played our share of video games. We wasted incredible amounts of time just “hanging out” with friends. We drove around in our cars going nowhere, wasting unacceptable amounts of fuel.

I can’t imagine how we would have been with smart phones at that age. Or maybe I can. We’d be constantly glued to them, texting our friends and taking selfies. We would be kids.

Conclusion

I for one want to hand this world off to a generation that isn’t intimidated by me. I believe it will make the world a better place.

This generation is one of the most intelligent generations to ever exist. I learn from them every day. If the older generations would swallow their pride, work with millennials, and see their positive traits, we would get a lot more done.

If you think millennials are a bunch of no good, lazy ne’er do wells, you’re probably looking at the wrong end of the glass. Take a hard look at your own generation at the same age. You may be surprised at the similarities.

Kids!
I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!
Kids!
Who can understand anything they say?
Why can’t they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?

– Kids (From the Broadway show and motion picture “Bye Bye Birdie,” 1963

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Solve it once – Duct tape gets expensive

Solve it Once
Solve it Once

I consider myself to be pretty handy around the house. I’ve built things, made furniture, and installed appliances with some decent success. Some of the things I don’t like to do are automotive work and plumbing.

Maybe I’m just better with wood, I just don’t get the satisfaction from those other activities. So when I do plumbing and automotive, my goal is to get it done rather than to enjoy it. This takes away a lot of motivation to do it right.

Unfortunately, I don’t always get it right. If a hose in my car is leaking, rather than taking the time to go to the automotive store and get a new one, I’m much more likely to do something like duct taping the leak to put the issue behind me.

As you may know, duct tape doesn’t last forever. I may end up doing it multiple times.

Duct taping business solutions

We see that in the business world a lot. An issue comes up. We do some investigation and find out that there is a duct tape solution, and a more solid, long-term solution. On a fairly consistent basis, the long-term solution is the much more expensive solution. It will take more time, more money, and more resources to solve it that way.

The duct tape solution is usually much cheaper. We can implement it with limited funds and it will take less time. Then we can get back to business.

The problem is, it may cause additional issues as a side effect. Or it may just resolve the issue temporarily. If you have to spend time, money, and resources multiple times to fix it, you may end up spending more on duct tape than on fixing it right the first time.

The cheapest approach is not always the best long term solution.

Find the root cause

Sometimes, we apply the duct tape solution unknowingly. We identify a problem and a solution seems obvious. For instance, imagine a situation where a software application continues to go down. Restarting the application and sometimes restarting the server that it runs on fixes the problem. Each time this happens, it brings down the application for five to fifteen minutes.

The restarts are seemingly inexpensive. It only takes an operator a few minutes to perform the action. However, since customers use this application, it affects customer satisfaction during these restarts.

When the manager of the application learned about the restarts, she started to ask what was causing the issue. Nobody knew. They just kept performing the restarts.

The manager asked the team to investigate the root cause of the issue. After three days of investigation, an analyst determined that to fix the application, it would take eighty hours.

Solve it once

The manager calculated the internal cost of the investigation and the fix to be about $12,000. She also made the determination that they risk losing sales every time they do a restart.

She determined that if they lost a sale every time they did the restart, the cost of the restarts would exceed the $12,000 cost within three months. Instead of continuing to restart the application every time there was a problem, she decided that it was a better long-term solution to fix the code in the application.

Conclusion

It is not always the case that solving the root cause is cheaper. But it is always worth doing the investigation to determine the true root cause. Comparing the cost of fixing the real problem or fixing the symptoms will give greater insight. You may find that to solve it once is cheaper than the duct tape.

How have you spent more on duct tape than to solve it once?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Importance of Feedback

Importance of Feedback
Importance of Feedback

I have a friend who is one of the nicest and kindest people I know. Unfortunately, she gives off a bad first impression. Although she rarely has a cross word for anyone, she doesn’t always express her appreciation to people.

She’s friendly to them. But if she’s invited to a party for which she can’t attend, she’ll just say “No thanks,” without an explanation why or an explanation that she has a conflict. People sometimes think she’s aloof and distant.

Neither is true. She simply isn’t good at providing feedback.

Have you ever sent an email or text to someone and never got a response. Even if the message wasn’t asking for a response, sometimes it’s nice to get an acknowledgement from the recipient.

Acknowledging messages

People are busier than ever. Most people I know get more than a hundred emails a day. It’s a skill to scan our emails, find the important ones we have to reply to, and continue on with the rest of our work.

Many emails simply inform us that something got done. When we ask for a report and receive it, we read it and continue on. Put yourself on the other side of that situation. Imagine that your boss asked you for a report and you provided it correctly and on time. It was a great report that allowed your boss to give an excellent presentation to the board. Yet, there wasn’t so much as a “Thanks” in return.

That can be demoralizing. Some bosses are just like that. But sometimes, the boss is just so busy, he or she didn’t have time to even think about it.

When you send an email to someone requesting information, remember to take a moment to follow-up with a thank you. You might even comment about how quick they responded.

A job well done

Aside from reports, sometimes people do their job exceedingly well. You might have been hoping for and expecting them to do it exceedingly well. So you didn’t notice how well it turned out. They simply met your high expectations.

Take a moment to notice when people do exceedingly well. Even when people do something well, take time to give them recognition. It means a lot to the recipient.

Some people are uncomfortable lavishing praise on people. They feel like it’s artificial to always tell people how much they appreciate them. It can be awkward if it’s not something you do regularly. But it’s something to get used to.

You don’t have to go on and on so that it’s embarrassing. A simple “Great job” is often enough.

Make it public

People like to be praised in public as well. If you have a daily or weekly status meeting, praise your team members in front of the team. Again, it doesn’t have to be lavish praise. Say something like, “Mary, you did a great job on that presentation yesterday. The CIO was very impressed. Thanks for your efforts.” Gratitude like that creates gratitude and loyalty from Mary. It also demonstrates to the rest of the team that you appreciate good work. This will encourage them to perform well too.

Feedback in conversation

Listening is one of the most underrated forms of communication.  Some people are able to listen while they check their emails and read whatever they’re reading on their phone. Maybe they are able to get most of what somebody is saying. But that’s not the message they send back.

If someone is talking to you and you are listening to them, you both gain by practicing engaged listening. You get more out of their message by looking them in the eye. They provide better engagement and a better message knowing that you are listening.

Active listening is the act of focusing on the speaker. Look them in the eye. Nod in agreement when you understand what they are saying. Ask follow up questions when you’re unclear. Restate things in a different way to verify that you understand.

Practicing active listening will help you get better clarity and understanding. The speaker will get feedback from you and feel listened to.

Conclusion

We get caught up in our busy day and often forget about the effort involved from our team members. People go out of their way to help us get our job done every day. It is important to provide feedback to them to let them know you appreciate their effort and hear them when they speak.

It creates an environment of trust and gratitude that improves morale and productivity.

How do you provide feedback to your team?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong.at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dealing with Your Nemesis at Work

Nemesis at Work
Dealing with a Nemesis at Work

One of my favorite televisions shows is Modern Family. I can’t think of a character on that show that I don’t like.  But one of my favorite characters is Cam. He was a college football player who now coaches a high school football team.

As a former athlete, Cam is uber-competitive. And he always seems to have a “nemesis.” It may be another teacher at the school where he coaches. It might be someone in his social circle. But he always seems to find someone who he must compete with.

I think we’ve all run into that in our professional lives at one point or another. It could be the insecure boss who has to find fault with everything you do. It could be the peer that is competing with you for the next promotion.

It doesn’t matter how competitive you are. The other person may just be the type that has to beat someone at something. If you are the competitive type, it will definitely fuel the fire.

Recognize the situation

Some people are so non-competitive that they don’t even realize they have a nemesis. They assume that since they are both on the same team and they will naturally work together.

When something goes wrong for you and the other person gains an advantage, the first assumption is that that’s just how it works out sometimes.

At some point, you must recognize a trend. If the other person is not so subtle about it, it may be a blatant competition. Even the most trusting person in the world needs to keep their eyes open to people who will take advantage of their good nature.

Are you being singled out?

Once you recognize a nemesis at work, you need to find out what drives him. Is this person just out for himself and competing with everyone that gets in the way of his career advancement? Or has this person singled you out? Maybe you made him mad about something in the past. Maybe you have something that he wants, like a title or position, or control of a primo project. Sometimes, having access to a high-ranking executive is enough for someone to try to bring you down.

What is driving your nemesis at work?

So you have identified a nemesis at work and determined that he has singled you out. What now? You want to find out why this person is suddenly your nemesis. Does he want something you have? You may not think you hold all that much power. But if someone sees you as a threat, they at least perceive that you have some form of power.

Take an inventory of what you have. Do you have a unique relationship with someone in power? Even if your nemesis saw you laughing and joking with the boss, he may perceive that you are extra chummy with the boss.  And he’ll want to bring you down. He may bad-mouth you behind your back, or point out some of your errors or weaknesses.

You could simply be a threat because you are successful. There is an old saying that there are two ways to have the tallest building in town. Build the tallest building, or tear all the taller buildings down. Some people who are incapable or insecure may not be able to compete with your success. They will resort to tearing you down to make themselves look better.

Dealing with the nemesis at work

Build the tallest building. When people resort to tearing you down, it is best to continue to build the tallest building. Take the high road. A good manager should see your nemesis’s negativity and the fact that you are adding legitimate value.

Promote your value. It’s great that you add value to your workplace. And few managers like self-promoting people that always brag about their accomplishments. But managers need to be made aware of the value you are adding. Instead of telling the manager everything you’ve done, promote it in terms of the value you are adding to the manager’s area.

Be honest about your mistakes. Nobody likes to point out when they make a mistake, especially to their boss. But you have to realize that if you don’t report it, somebody else probably will. Informing the boss of your mistakes gives you two advantages. First, you can put it in the best light. Report the error and diffuse it by also reporting how you plan on fixing it. Secondly, it preempts your nemesis. By the time he gets to the boss to report your screw-up, the boss already knows about it. You’ve stolen the thunder away from your nemesis.

Conclusion

Perhaps nemesis is a strong word. But every once in a while, we run into someone who plays politics and works against us. You need to always have your guard up for these people and know how to deal with them to avert their schemes to defeat you.

How have you dealt with your nemesis at work?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Geerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Getting Things Done (and Stuff)

Getting things done and stuff
Getting things done and stuff

I have a friend who seems to refuse to use anything but vague nouns when she speaks. Out of the blue she will say things like, “I talked to that guy about that thing.”

I usually look at her with a blank stare and say something prophetic like, “Huh?”

She will then get frustrated with me for not understanding and give another description laced with imprecision. It usually takes a few back-and-forth exchanges to understand who and what she’s talking about.

False assumptions

I see similar communication styles at work. If you remember Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla from Schoolhouse Rock, you will know that pronouns were created so that we don’t need to repeat the same proper noun over and over again, once it is mentioned. The key words there are “once it is mentioned.”

I once had car trouble on a trip. The timing chain broke while I was driving. A tow truck came and got me. While we were heading to the shop with my car trailing his truck, I asked him what the timing chain is.

He began to explain it to me, “Well, you’ve got your overhead cam, right?”

Right there he lost me. If I didn’t know what the timing chain was, I certainly didn’t know what the overhead cam was.

Sometimes we get lazy and don’t want to provide critical details for what we are talking about. Sometimes, when working with professionals at the same level, we tend to assume that they know everything we know and we forego critical details.

Getting rid of “stuff”

I’m a big “stuff” guy at times. I don’t always want get into details that aren’t necessary. I say things like, “We completed a lot of stuff last week,” or “We finished the software deployments and got some of the technical stuff out of the way.” I do this assuming the people I’m talking to already know the stuff I’m talking about. Either that or I know they just aren’t interested in the gory details. They just want to know that, in general, accomplishments got done.

I often get away with it. Some people don’t want to get into the details. Some people aren’t confrontational enough to ask for clarification. But every once in a while, someone will ask for clarification. And every once in a while, I can’t provide the details. I’ve glazed over the details because I don’t really know them.

Have the details ready

Some people aren’t specific because they don’t know the details. They say “that guy” because they don’t remember his name. When we give status, we know the big things that were accomplished but don’t know a lot of detail around it.

When you give a status update to a client, they often just want a summary of the major accomplishments. Sometimes they want to know the details behind it. I’ll often try to write details down that they might want to know. Writing it down helps me to remember the detail better if they ask. And if I don’t remember every detail, I’ve got it in written form.

Using pronouns or generic terms

Like the Schoolhouse Rock example, using the same proper nouns and full names can get monotonous. When you mention someone’s name, repeating it over and over just sounds stranger than saying him or her for the rest of the conversation.

That’s also why we use nicknames and acronyms. Imaging saying International Business Machines every time you talk about IBM. But if the audience you’re talking to doesn’t know who IBM is, you might as well be talking about an overhead cam.

Conclusion

Everyone seems to be in a hurry. And our everyday language can be cumbersome if we force ourselves to be specific about every detail. To make it easier, we use pronouns and shortened versions of bulky terms. That makes communicating more convenient. But when we try to make it easier to communicate, we can make it murkier.

It is important to make sure that the audience you are talking and writing to understand all of the terms and terminology that you are referring to.

Have you ever made false assumptions about what your audience understood?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Can You be an Independent Consultant and Work for a Firm?

Independent Consultant
Independent Consultant

Although there are many ways to categorize consulting, one major difference is whether someone works as an independent consultant, or as a consultant working for a consulting firm.

Firm consultants vs independent consultants

Independent consultants generally have a large network of clients and potential clients. They either do their own marketing to sell projects to people in that network, or they partner with a firm that helps them identify work.

An independent consultant often does short gigs for clients, usually working alone to perform a study or tightly defined task.

Conversely, a consultant working for a firm often works with a team of people. The team can be a combination of fellow employees of their firm, employees of the client, and other consultants.

These rules are not set in stone. Consultants from a firm can work alone and independent consultants can be part of a large team on a long-term project.

A consultant with a firm will be charged the going hourly rate to the client based on that individual’s skills and experience. That consultant is paid a salary that is often a fraction of the rate billed. That consultant generally receives a full benefits such as health insurance, a 401(k), and paid vacation time. Although firm consultants are responsible for developing new business, they have less responsibility for finding their next job. The firm generally has a sales team that finds the work for them.

Independent consultants are responsible for finding their work. They get to keep most of their billings after taxes, but are responsible for their own health insurance and retirement savings. If they want to take vacation time off, they don’t get paid.

Consultants that are risk averse often stay affiliated with a firm that will do the heavy lifting of sales for them. They can do the work of a consultant and not worry so much where their next job is coming from.

Some consultants work for a firm until they can develop a good Rolodex of clients before they set out on their own. Sometimes, just because they have consulting experience, they may get an opportunity to do some independent work for a client gig.

Conflict of interest

There is nothing wrong with a firm consultant doing a one-off gig or even transitioning to becoming an independent on a full-time basis. The critical consideration is to avoid any conflict of interest.

Consider if you work for a client for your firm, and that client offers to pay you separately to do additional, independent work for them on your own time. If your firm provides the same service the client is asking you to do – even if it is not your role, you could be competing with your own firm.

Whether there is any question of competing or not, it would be advisable to meet with your manager at your firm and get their opinion. If they have any reservation, it may be a conflict of interest. On the rare occasion that they don’t have a problem, make sure that the time you work on the independent work never interferes with the work you are doing with the firm.

If a completely separate client asks you to do independent work on your own time, this may be a more palatable set up for your firm. You still need to ensure that the time you spend on your independent client doesn’t interfere with the time you spend for your firm.

Your firm may require you to bill a minimum number of hours to the client to justify your salary. Working fewer hours in order to serve your independent client creates a conflict of interest. Obviously, billing both clients for the same hours is also a serious breach in ethics.

Finally, always ensure that you don’t use any of your firm’s resources to serve your independent client. This includes office supplies, email accounts, and intellectual property.

Conclusion

Many consultants use employment with a consulting firm as a stepping stone to becoming an independent consultant. During that transition, it is important to maintain ethical practices to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest with your independent practice and your firm.

How have you made the transition from a firm to independent consultant?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of StuartMiles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Using a client laptop

Client laptop
Using a client laptop

I heard a consultant talking the other day about a client experience he had. He had a client laptop issued to him. He carried it home with him every night in case he needed to do any work off hours.

One Saturday night he had a few friends over. He powered up the client-issued laptop and started playing music on it. Later in the evening, he was in another room, not paying attention to the laptop. When he walked back into the room, he saw that some of his friends were viewing porn on the client-issued laptop.
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