By Francis Wade
Thursday, November 29, 2012.
It's a secret that consultants of all kinds almost never share with potential clients, but talk about all the time. There are certain companies which we avoid working with, and, more often or not, they have no idea they have been blacklisted.
(Caveat: Some consultants will do anything for the right price, but the vast majority of them are ethical professionals who sincerely want to make a difference. This article speaks to an experience shared by the latter group.)
Consulting, in its highest and purest form, is a collaborative business founded on a high degree of trust. Think of the way in which you'd choose the services of a doctor, lawyer or beautician. You would probably use the Yellow Pages as a last resort - that is, only when you don't know a qualified person first-hand.
Looking for and buying these services is not like hailing a taxicab. Con-sulting requires a personal touch, an assumption of confidentiality, and a commitment to more than a single transaction. Also, most people don't call in professionals unless something is going wrong, or is about to go wrong.
The stakes are high, and the intervention is required to make a significant difference.
Companies that become 'un-clientable' lose track of this fact and attempt to take trust out of the equation, leading to behaviour that prevents them from taking advantage of the special relationship that a professional offers.
Without realising it, they set their core needs aside and elevate trivial concerns.
Here are some examples of what makes companies un-clientable.
Here in the Caribbean, chaos may be the greatest source of un-clientability. In this case, a client company lacks organisation for so long that it cannot work with a professional to implement any change.
Constant firefighting means that they never return calls. Poor time management means that appointments never solidify. Arbitrary processes mean that suppliers never seem to get paid unless they have a personal relationship with the CFO.
The client's operations are a moving target; nothing changes because everything changes so often. Over time, employees become addicted and accustomed to the chaos and treat the consultant as if it is 'business as usual'.
Case: Members of a senior management team privately shared that they never respond to the CEO's requests due to his unfortunate habit of repeating requests to several people and his general inability to remember who had promised what. They only started when he became irate from not getting what he wanted - that was their signal that it was important, and they needed to take action.
Executives lie openly, brazenly, and sometimes even deceive themselves. Consultants work to help their clients see the truth and act differently as a result. That's why trust is so important and why lies destroy clientability.
However, seeing uncomfortable truth is difficult, and many companies become un-clientable because they cannot summon the courage to confront the facts.
Case: a general manager who slept with a number of staff members in a 'hidden' location was called out by a consultant. Implausible lies were told in an attempt to cover up the truth, leading to a premature end to their work.
In Jamaican culture, we overly defer to those in authority. This practice leads some executives to take advantage of their power and break promises whenever they want. With no one around them to say 'no', they get used to throwing their weight around without encountering resistance.
When a consultant enters the situation, he/she reveals the behaviour for what it is: a matter of convenience for the person in power. By refusing to play along, the professional consultant calls the executive to a higher standard and insists: 'Keep your agreements even when it's not convenient'.
Clients who do not see the value of such a standard are simply un-clientable.
Case: A company fails to pay its invoices on time as a regular practice. Instead, it bargains with desperate consultants, whose situation leads them to accept partial payments and payments-in-kind instead of cash.
The truth is that un-clientability is merely a symptom of deeper issues, and the consultant's job is to bring missing or hidden information to light. Unfortunately, long after the consultant has gone away, these problems haven't - they've got worse, and only if a company realises this fact can it do something about it.
A company that is un-clientable is one that resists making a difference.
Francis Wade is the President of Framework Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org