It happened almost by accident. Jim was presenting his change request to the change review board. He had to expedite it to make the deadline. He needed approval from Paul, his client manager, in order to expedite it. He tried calling Paul a few minutes before the meeting but he didn’t answer.
He decided to attend the meeting anyway.
“Why don’t you have Paul’s approval for this?” one of the board members asked.
“I called him, but he didn’t get back to me.” Jim responded.
“We can’t approve this without his signature.” They responded.
Disappointed but not surprised, Jim left the meeting and began working on rescheduling his deployment. At the same time, the head of the review board was writing an email to Paul asking why he wasn’t responding to calls asking for his approval for expedited changes. The email scolded Paul for wasting the board’s time and being unresponsive to his team.
Paul went through his phone and saw that Jim had called him six minutes before the board review. Paul was in a meeting at the time and couldn’t pick up. He was livid that Jim made him look bad in front of the entire board.
He went up to Jim and asked him what happened. Jim innocently explained the sequence of events. He was unaware and didn’t mean to throw the client under the bus.
“You called me six minutes before the meeting. Why didn’t you give me more time for the approval?” Paul asked.
Jim put his head down and said he didn’t realize he would need the approval until they expedited it last minute.
“You told them that I hadn’t responded. Did you explain that you only gave me six minutes?” Paul was starting to get irritated.
“No. I didn’t.”
“You made me look unresponsive. The board thinks I’m just wasting their time.” Paul explained
Jim tried to explain that he had no intention of making him look bad. He just didn’t plan well enough in advance. When they asked about contacting Paul, he simply told them that he couldn’t get ahold of him.
The damage is done
Paul walked away knowing he had made his point. The following month, when the project began its first consultant roll-offs, Jim was the first one Paul put on the list. He had lost credibility and Paul’s trust and was no longer an asset to the team in Paul’s opinion.
When you throw the client under the bus, it may be an intentional act designed to expose the client in front of his peers or superiors. It can also be inadvertent as in Jim’s case. He didn’t mean to do it, but if he had thought it through, he certainly would have handled it differently.
There are certain situations where to throw the client under the bus is unacceptable. If the client holds any authority over the consultant or his firm, the consultant’s job is to make that client manager look good. Fall on your sword if you must, but don’t be responsible for throwing the client under the bus.
Is it ever good to throw the client under the bus?
It can be appropriate for some individuals at the client. If you work with a client group that is uncooperative with your project team and regularly makes your team and your client manager look bad, this may be a target. If you expose the client that works against your direct client, it may help you get things done. But this can be a short-term solution.
Your client manager may appreciate you doing the dirty work for him. You may get some self-satisfaction when you throw the client under the bus. And you may have made progress on your project by getting that uncooperative client to (reluctantly) cooperate.
Be wary of any long term effects of such an act. What comes around often goes around. The scorned client employee may retaliate to you or your client manager. This may end up blowing up in your client manager’s face and make him ultimately look bad.
Additionally, consultants are always trying to expand business in other areas within the client. If you or your team hope to win any new business with the offending area, you may burn a bridge if you throw the client under the bus.
One of the consultant’s main goals is to make the client look good. This may require the consultant to take some blame and “look bad” for the client. This never feels good, but it is almost always a better move than to throw the client under the bus.
Did you ever throw the client under the bus?
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
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