Our company’s stated purpose is “To achieve extraordinary results with our clients”. One of our core strategies is to “…build relationships and partner with our clients”. We focused on the concept of partnering about ten years ago upon reflecting on what were the keys to really making a difference for our clients.
Partnering with consultants for organizational change
Organizational consultants come in two flavors: those who provide content expertise and those who provide process expertise, as well as guidance in managing change. We are in the later category. Hence, to achieve extraordinary results we must use excellence in process to leverage the knowledge and expertise extant inside our client organization. Those engagements that have produced truly extraordinary results usually end with the CEO remarking something along the lines of “I never knew we had those capabilities”. Good process can tap previously untapped wisdom, innovation, courage and commitment, the recipe for peak performance.
So what about partnership? The definition of partner includes the concept of shared risks and profits. We have tried on several occasions to enter into agreements that include shared profits. Our experience is that there is general reluctance to this concept. We can move forward without that (more on this later), but shared risk is a must. What are the shared risks? On our side, there is a guarantee that the client will achieve the results promised (subject to the caveat that agreed upon outcomes are executed). If not delivered, then we either don’t get paid or we continue to work until we get there.
On the client side, there is the risk to undertake change. It is always easiest, safest and the path of least resistance to simply continue what you have been doing even if the results aren’t satisfactory. After all maybe things will turnaround. New ventures, process change, product and service changes, changes in structure; these all have inherent risks of failure, typically because they don’t work as envisioned, they aren’t executed well or there is overwhelming opposition from the troops. A few failures, and leadership is reluctant to attempt change. Willingness to risk change, to go for it, is vital if we are to attain our purpose of achieving extraordinary results with our clients.
Valued leadership characteristics
From our experience, these are the characteristics of client leadership that allow us to be able to create an effective partnership for change:
- Leadership has an ambitious, clear vision of the legacy of his or her tenure, i.e. what difference is to be made
- Leadership is effective at holding others accountable for their commitments for results
- Leadership is effective at managing change so as to minimize loss of productivity and morale as well as employee turnover
- Leadership is willing to consider our coaching them in developing strategies to accomplish the above. Heading into uncharted waters takes courage and brings up uncertainty, having a partner to confirm your instincts and support learning as you go can be vital.
For our part, we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve agreed-upon goals. The challenge here is that clients want a fixed price agreement, think of consulting in terms of cost per day or hour—all of which impedes our doing whatever it takes or at least has us doing so at a loss. Were we truly partnered, meaning we were at financial risk, but also could realize financial gain, then the relationship would shift on both sides. The client could be much more demanding of results, and we could be much more engaged and courageous in our coaching. In short, we would be partners, in this together.
This would be the ideal, in my view. The norm, unfortunately, falls well short of this. Client agreements are simply for completing a plan, designing a new process and implementation plan, designing new organizational structure or delivering training. Note that none of these are about producing a result, only a pathway to that result. Well, we do that extraordinarily well, but the real satisfaction comes only when the results are realized.
There are lots of reasons why the ideal is not realized. It is challenging to trust others, especially someone outside the organization. Reliance on an outside resource can conjure up feelings of inadequacy (“I don’t need help”), etc. etc. Overcoming these takes time, i.e. a few years of the norm before transitioning to partnering.
We have been blessed with some wonderful partnerships of long-standing over our 33 years, but far fewer than we would like. We continue our quest in search of (to borrow a phrase) a few good partners. Anyone game?
If interested in talking more, reach out to us a firstname.lastname@example.org