Client Focus: Telling Him He Has No Clothes

ID-10040172

 

As you may know, the folk tale The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen is the story of two dishonest weavers who convince an emperor that they can make him a set of clothes which can only be seen by competent people.

When the emperor and his underlings can’t see the non-existent suit of clothes, they pretend that they can, to avoid exposing their own presumed incompetence.

A young boy, who isn’t clear on the concept, sees the emperor parading around naked and cries out, “He’s not wearing any clothes.”

It’s a common parallel in the business world. If the boss says something incorrect – or even stupid – in a meeting, few, if any, will point out the faux pas in public. Many will not even point it out to him or her in private.

The unfortunate result is, by putting the boss’s ego before getting it right, the organization may make bad decisions, based on incorrect assumptions. This ends up reducing productivity, profitability, and most likely both.

It can be even more complex in a consulting environment. The client has brought the consultant in to advise. The consultant, by virtue of her title should provide consultation. For instance, if the client sees a decrease in revenues over a period of time, he may hire you as a consultant to perform some analysis on their strategies over that period of time and provide some advice on 1) why it happened, and 2) what to do to correct it.

See my related post: Communicating Bad News to Clients

Let’s say you do the in-depth analysis and learn that the executive that hired you implemented a change that caused the reduction in revenues. Perhaps he lowered product quality or cut back on customer service or changed the marketing strategy to target only people taller than seven feet.

On one hand, the client wants your advice on how to correct it. On the other hand, you can tell him that he is directly responsible for screwing everything up and tell him to resign.

Another scenario is when a client asks a consulting firm to implement a specific software system. They know, not only what type of system to implement, but also which system they want.

As a consultant, it’s your job to push back. The challenge is to gently second guess the paying client’s decision. Deciding on a software system requires significant due diligence. Choosing the correct vendor requires even more.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

A consultant can simply accept their marching orders and say, “The client wants me to implement this system. Who am I to contradict? He knows his business better than I do.”

The consultant risks doing a severe disservice to the client if it is the wrong system for them.

Diplomatically disagreeing with the client, rather than doing what you’re told is a bold and risky move. A consultant’s success will usually hinge on how it is done.

Were you asked to be an adviser?

Some consultants are simply hired to do what they are told. This is more of an outsourcing situation for hired hands rather than true consulting. Even if the flavor of consulting that you’re doing is just to follow orders, if they are doing something inadvisable, the consultant has a responsibility to raise the question and present some facts.

Did you insult the client?

In the scenario where the client made some bad decisions that caused the problem you are analyzing, it is important to use diplomacy when presenting the news to him. Rather than accusing him of making a bad decision, consider the fact that market conditions may have changed since the decision was made.

Did you expose the client publicly?

If the client made a bad decision, a strategy should be developed for how it to communicate it to him and the rest of the organization. Sugar-coating should be avoided. But a focus on the positive – how to move forward – works better than making accusations and a negative focus.

The bottom line is diplomacy.

A consultant has a responsibility to consult. That may be unpopular with a client. The consultant may be asked to leave if the client is offended or fears being exposed.

The consultant has to ask herself if she is willing to accept that risk. Do you want to work for clients that want order-followers? Or do you want a client who is looking for a trusted advisor, who is not afraid of telling him what he doesn’t want to hear, but needs to hear?

As always, I welcome your questions and comments.

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 

Related Posts
7 Things to Do When a Project Ends
There comes a time in every consulting project when the project ends for a consultant, normally known as “rolling off”. Consultants are, by nature, temporary workers.  The end of the gig ...
READ MORE
3 Ways to Make Yourself Expendable
We work in an environment of nearly constant change.  Technology has not only changed the way we do virtually everything, the rate of change increases at a more rapid rate ...
READ MORE
Why Do You Want to Work From Home?
Working from home is a growing trend in the business world.  In an effort to cut back on office space and other overhead costs, many companies have set up their ...
READ MORE
How I Learned that Burning Bridges is A Career Limiting Move
When I was in high school, I had a job at a restaurant. At one point, being a mature 16-year old, I wanted to quit. I didn't just want to ...
READ MORE
Pushing Too Hard and the Monkey’s Dilemma
Have you ever worked so hard that you didn’t get anything done? The elusive banana The monkey’s dilemma is a well known story about how hunters figured out a way to capture ...
READ MORE
A Consulting Limerick
A man tried a career in consulting But his approach with clients was insulting He was arrogant and rude With the clients he’d feud And they found him to be quite revolting   The firm chose ...
READ MORE
Do You Deliver a Transparent Status Report?
I once managed a project for a multi-site organization to implement software at each location. I held a weekly status conference-call with the company’s executives which included the branch manager from ...
READ MORE
Michael Jordan and the Consultant’s Public Image
I loved watching Michael Jordan play for The Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.  In those days, everybody seemed to want to “Be like Mike”.  I remember thinking about how isolated ...
READ MORE
The 3 Ds of Client Subversion and What To Do
As a consultant, I’ve liked every client I’ve ever served.  There are some, however, that I’ve liked more than others. Every once in a while I run across one person at ...
READ MORE
Old School Consulting
Some of the concepts I promote in my book and blogs could be seen by many as an old school approach to consulting. Suggestions such as showing up to meetings on ...
READ MORE
7 Things to Do When a Project Ends
3 Ways to Make Yourself Expendable
Why Do You Want to Work From Home?
How I Learned that Burning Bridges is A
Pushing Too Hard and the Monkey’s Dilemma
A Consulting Limerick
Do You Deliver a Transparent Status Report?
Michael Jordan and the Consultant’s Public Image
The 3 Ds of Client Subversion and What
Old School Consulting