I’m very fortunate to work for a consulting firm in which my engagement manager and client communicate on a regular basis. That hasn’t always been the case. Engagement managers get busy. They assume that you as the client-facing consultant are there to provide communication. The client also gets busy and doesn’t have time to meet with the engagement manager. The EM is usually just trying to sell more services anyway so they often just avoid them.
Maybe so. Engagement managers are often motivated to increase sales at their existing clients. And when that gets in the way of providing the best client service possible, communication breaks down. That is when the consultant that has daily access to the client is most needed.
When a consultant begins a client project, there is a desire to keep a laser-beam focus on that project. It seems logical. Whether you are managing the project or simply a cog in the great wheel, that project should be the one and only thing to focus on.
However, it is likely that that client project is one of many efforts in progress for your client. And those efforts almost certainly are interrelated with your project.
Today, we observe a phenomenon that makes the United States unique and special. We will observe the peaceful transition of power of the United States presidency. Regardless of your politics or whether your candidate won, this is a process that has gone smoothly for over 200 years.
The outgoing president works closely with the newly elected president to facilitate a smooth transition of power. I’ve always been impressed by this. Even when the successor defeated the incumbent (which has happened ten times in our history), the two work together in the greater interest of the nation.
Although it rarely matches the levels of significance and national security, I’ve seen this occur in consulting environments many times. A team member on a project is to be replaced by another. When this happens, the incumbent team member is expected to transition his or her work to the incoming person.
Transitioning to your successor
One of the great things about consulting is the variety. Consultants thrive on moving from project to project. Some even like to have a variety of clients. After some time on a project, they are ready to move on. This can be a pleasant process in these situations. The incoming consultant is excited about the new assignment. The outgoing one is just as excited to start something new.
Sometimes, a client will change contracts with their preferred vendors, needing to transition knowledge from one firm’s consultants to another. This can be based on cost savings or an effort to consolidate work to fewer firms.
A transition like this is comparable to an incumbent president losing the race, required to transition to his opponent. While the outgoing firm may resent being replaced, they must do the professional thing. They need to provide the knowledge transfer necessary to make their replacement successful.
This should not be confused with the story in 2016 regarding Disney employees training replacement workers. That was about permanent employees losing their jobs because cheaper consultants were replacing them. A consultant-for-consultant swap is much more common and more acceptable. Consultants expect to be temporary and to move on to another temporary assignment.
Interviewing your replacement
I’ve been in the situation where, as part of my transition off of a project, I was to interview candidates to take my position. On one hand, that is an almost ideal person to do the interviewing. No one knows the position like the incumbent.
There could be a potential conflict of interest, even if the consultant is leaving willingly. He could fear a newcomer showing him up. He could focus on hiring someone less qualified to make his previous work appear better in comparison.
But like the incumbent president focusing on a smooth transition of power, a consultant needs to think of the client and their project. Sabotaging the project, no matter how subtle, will tarnish the reputation of the consultant and his firm.
Handing off the work
Once the new consultant has been identified and brought in for the transition, it can be awkward. The replacement may feel uncomfortable taking the place of the outgoing guy. The new consultant may be present when people say their goodbyes and show their disappointment to see the old guy go.
It is up to the outgoing consultant, regardless of the purpose of the staffing change, to make the process go smoothly. All documentation should be shared and authorized access provided to the new consultant.
Key stakeholders should be introduced in person, if that is possible. Contact information should be shared and background on each individual’s role and responsibilities. The ultimate goal should be that your replacement is never heard saying, “My predecessor never mentioned anything about that.”
It’s just how it works in consulting
Some people may find it bad form to require someone to train their replacement. The Disney scenario is extreme because permanent employees had to transition to their replacements before their firing took place. Because of the temporary nature of consulting, transitioning to your successor is a fairly common occurrence. It may create uncertainty for the outgoing consultant, but it’s just the way consulting works.
Have you ever been replaced by another consultant?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I had a friend once who had several years of experience. He decided to give consulting a try. He knew a friend in the industry and made an agreement to consult for him. It was a handshake agreement. They were friends after all. It would have been insulting if either side insisted on a signed contract.
My friend worked for his friend for a few weeks and submitted an invoice for his services. His friend balked. He had no idea the cost would be so high. He didn’t agree to that.
The old folk story of stone soup is about three vagrant travelers passing through a small town with nothing but a cooking pot. They ask residents of the town for food but meet resistance at every door.
Finally, they go to the local stream and fill their cooking pot with water. They place a large stone in it and put it over a fire they built in the center of town.
This piques the interest of the towns folk and they asked the vagrants about their endeavor. The three men explain that they are making stone soup. They describe how delicious it is, but it just needs a little garnish to finish it off
One of the townspeople doesn’t mind providing a few carrots. Another offers come celery. Other people offer various herbs and spices.
I have an aunt who up until the age of 93 drove herself to the doctor for each visit. At each of those visits, the doctor would to tell her to stop smoking. She didn’t heed his advice and her life was cut short at 95 years of age.
We tend to look to doctors to heal us. But they are really just advisers. They can prescribe medicine, suggest different ways to eat, and advise us to change bad habits. But we have the final decision over how we live and how it will affect our health.
Consulting works in the same way. Consultants can advise their clients on recommended business practices. The client can choose whether they want to follow that advice. They may disagree with it. They feel it’s too big of an investment. There are ways that the consultant can help the client make the right decision.
Be like an auto mechanic
When you hear a clanking sound in your engine, you probably take your car to the mechanic. The mechanic will investigate the noise and advise you on what needs to be done. If it’s very expensive, you may decide you want to live with the clatter. The mechanic should tell you whether it is dangerous to drive with the noise. Continue reading How to Help the Client Make Decisions→
I was recently at a client that had a lot of issues. Business was great. They had a lot of customers. They were experiencing a lot of growth.
But because of that growth, they were beginning to hit the limit on their ability to serve their client base. Their servers were starting to hit their limits. They had a lot of manual processes.
Those processes worked well for them when they were smaller. But now, manual processing was causing bottlenecks. A lot of work went to the IT team as special requests. IT was bogged down with these requests, which caused delays of several weeks for seemingly simple requests.
When the client acquired a new customer, there was extensive setup involved. They needed to define custom reports and load new sets of data. All of this processing created a logistical nightmare that could take several weeks.
Where to start?
The business team wanted to be more self-sufficient from IT. Instead of submitting requests and waiting for them to get to their task in the queue, the business wanted a simple tool to set up the customer, load data, and create reports. But there were so many areas that needed work, they didn’t know where to start.
Have you ever started a day where you had so many things to do, that you struggled to get anything done? You could list the items out, but that only highlighted how much you had to do. It seemed to make it worse.
You might have been so overwhelmed that you thought writing out a list would simply take time away from doing the real work. If you feel so inundated with work that you don’t have time to organize, that’s a sign that you need to get organized.
If you do take the time to make a list, you might go through that list and prioritize it. When the list is long, it’s hard for me to prioritize in a sequential process. How do I decide what is 2nd most important and what is 3rd?
For long lists, I’ll prioritize in categories. “A” items are of top priority. “B” items are important, but not critical. “C” items are nice-to-have.
The next step is to estimate how long each task will take. This allows me to do a mini cost/benefit analysis. Let’s say something I thought was an “A” item will end up taking me six hours. I can do four other “A” tasks in the same amount of time, so I’ll do them instead.
This seems easy enough with personal daily tasks. It’s much more complicated when a business division is trying to make these decisions. It’s more difficult to determine which tasks have more value. It’s harder to estimate the cost of making each change.
An independent third party can come in and make independent assessments of the cost and benefit of each task. They can present their findings to the business to make the final decision on what should be done and what can be tabled for later.
Imagine a consultant coming in for you at the end of each day to help you organize and prioritize your upcoming overwhelming day for you. Maybe that’s overkill for a daily to do list. But it’s just what some business organizations need to make the right changes at the right time.
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
Sergie is a mechanic that I trust with my cars. When I take it in for a problem, he’ll suggest an inexpensive adjustment to see if that solves the problem. If that doesn’t work, he’ll try something more. I know that he has my best interests in mind rather than thinking about how much money he’ll make in the deal.
It made me realize that he was really my auto repair consultant. What if every consultant followed the six steps that Sergie does with me?
Explain the impact
After Sergie runs an analysis on my car, he gives me a call and explains what is wrong with it. He knows that I don’t know an overhead cam from a drive shaft. Instead of taking advantage of that, he explains how it impacts the car’s performance. That helps me make a decision on what to do.
When a consultant identifies a problem, it is important to explain, not just the business or IT problem, but how it has potential to impact the business in the short and long terms. When the client understands how it impacts the business, they can seek the most effective solutions.
Understand client’s priorities
Sergie has asked me how much longer we plan to keep an automobile. He’s asked how many miles we usually drive a car to work. That helps him understand how much and how we use our cars. That helps him give informed advice that will be most helpful for us to get the right solution.
A consultant should understand the client’s strategy. He should know the clients priorities and goals in order to help achieve them. By knowing where the client is going, the consultant can give advice that leads them down the right path.
When Sergie calls after I drop off a car, I know how the conversation is going to go. He’ll explain what is wrong in language that I can understand. Then he’ll list out a number of options. Some are simple stop-gap resolutions. Some are a lot more expensive. For each option, he explains the advantages and disadvantages. He’ll explain how the fix could affect the resale value and how long the solution is expected to last.
Consultants are paid to come up with solutions. They should provide clients with multiple options and explain the pros and cons of each one. Each option should be presented in a way that is clear and understandable for the client.
Make a recommendation
Once he explains all of the options and the pros and cons of each, Sergie often has painted a picture of a no-brainer. I’ll usually state what sounds like the right option and he usually agrees.
Sometimes, it’s not a clear solution. If he sees me struggling to decide, he’ll make a recommendation based on his knowledge of how we use our cars. He’ll explain why he thinks that’s a good solution. Then he patiently answers all of my questions and waits for my decision.
No matter how decisive a client is, or how well he knows his business, decisions can be complex. A consultant who knows the client’s strategy can best make a recommendation and explain why it’s the best decision. The client will most likely have questions. The consultant should be well-informed to be able to answer each question.
Implement according to the customer’s preferences
Once I make a decision on my car, my loyal mechanic implements the solution according to my directions. I’ve never gone against his recommendation. But if I did, I have confidence that he would do what I think is best rather than what he believes.
A consultant has to do the same. Clients often agree with the consultant. Sometimes they agree after some minor modifications. Other times, they may disagree completely for a variety of reasons.
The consultant may disagree. He may voice that disagreement. But the client’s wishes trump the consultant’s opinion. Solutions need to be implemented according to the client’s wishes.
How do you help clients make decisions?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
“I’m just a programmer. I’ve only been brought in here to write code for this client.”
That’s the general attitude I’ve gotten from many consultants on past projects. Some consultants just seem to forget that their really outsiders.
There is a double standard. Employees have their assignments. Their employers have expectations for them. When employers bring in consultants, they usually have higher expectations for those consultants.
Consultants are expected to be experts. Consultants are usually paid at a higher rate. Never mind that consultants have overhead costs. Whether the consultant is independent or associated with a firm, there is still health insurance and vacation time buried in the rate. Continue reading Client Relations for Consultants→
I’m intrigued with the popularity of vampires and zombies these days. Just doing a simple search for vampires on Amazon.com provides over 51,000 book titles. A search on zombies provides another 24,000. Netflix offers many titles under each category as well.
It might have started with the Twilight series, but I think that just fueled a fire that was already burning. The same goes for The Walking Dead series on AMC. I think it has just enhanced a wave that was already going
After more than twenty years on consulting, I’ve observed how consultants and clients interact with each other. They each have their own way of looking at the other. I’ve come to the conclusion that clients perceive consultants as vampires and consultants perceive clients as zombies.
Consultants are Vampires
Vampires are Blood suckers: We all know that a vampire needs to survive on the blood of others. Consultants are always trying to upsell. They want to add scope to the project and then sell that next project in addition. Billable hours and sales, at the expense of the client, are their lifeblood.
Vampires are aristocratic: Just as vampires have the attitude of coming from the upper echelon, so do consultants. They dress more superior and have the condescending attitude that they’re just better.
Vampires are nocturnal: Just as vampires only come out at night, consultants like to burn the midnight oil. Then, they come in later in the morning because of their late nighter. When the client comes in at 8:00 AM to ask a question, the consultants are nowhere to be found.
Vampires have psychic abilities: There are some vampire movies where vampires can read minds. Consultants are the same. In fact, whenever a client manager says something intelligent, the consultant says, “I was just about to say that.”
Vampires can appear as mist: Consultants do the analysis, develop the plan, and present it all into a nice PowerPoint presentation. Then they disappear as soon as the actual execution of the plan is to be performed.
A vampire has hypnotic power over his victims: Many a client employee whose boss has hired a consultant has probably wondered what caused them to hire that consultant. He must have been under the consultant’s hypnotic power.
A vampire can turn victims into vampires: Every once in a while, a consultant convinces a client employee to come over to “the dark side” of consulting. Many consulting contracts prohibit pilfering employees from either party, but it still happens. Before long, the new consultant is taking his former colleagues out to lunch trying to drum up new business.
A zombie is someone who has lost his or her sense of self: When a consultant first meets the client employee, he often finds someone who is entrenched in the politics and apathy of the organization. He’s there to put in his time and leave at 5:00. You consultants want to change how we do things? Why?
Zombies have increased endurance relative to normal humans: clients can endure long meetings in which their presence neither adds value nor is required. They go because they were invited. What else are they going to do?
Zombies have reduced or absent cognitive function: Clients know only their area of the business. If you want to know how another area of the business works, go talk to someone in that area. It’s not my job.
Zombies are Slow: Clients have no sense of urgency to implement change. They’re happy with the status quo. They show up late for meetings, or not at all. They practice passive resistance to hold up any chance of real change taking place.
Zombies are not dead, yet not alive: Client employees are present, yet they aren’t. They show up for work every day. They attend their meetings. But they are rarely productive.
Is Either Perspective Accurate?
Obviously, these are extreme perspectives that consultants and clients have of each other. Hopefully consultants aren’t that condescending toward their clients. Hopefully clients aren’t that cynical toward consultants.
But, these attitudes sometimes exist on both sides. Consultants can provide a valuable service to their clients if they face it with the right attitude. Clients can sometimes be resistant to new changes the consultant is trying to help implement. Maybe the client employees haven’t been convinced that the new changes are better than the existing ways of doing business. It is the consultant’s responsibility to convince them why the changes are better.
Consultants and client employees are often incented and motivated by different things. If the client employee wants to stay with the status quo and has no incentive to change, the consultant should work with the client to find ways they would like the changes. Will it make their job easier? Will it allow them to make decisions that will help them move up the corporate ladder?
Consulting, more than anything else is a communication process. Communicating change to a client involves communicating why the client should be interested in the first place. It is about the client.
How have you broken down stereotypes to convince a client to change?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.