Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Prepare or free form?

ImageTwo consulting experiences with unexpected consequences:
1) You turn up at a client’s office usually from the back of a taxi with a colleague who’s been busy on something else, and the cab journey is the only preparation time you have for the meeting. Getting to an agreed agenda is almost the best you can expect from the time available and it’s with some trepidation that you walk into the meeting room, hoping that inspiration will hit you as you greet the client. Asking the client for a quick description of the issue they are facing, is less of a considered tactic and more of an opportunity to draw breath and get out of an awkward silence.
What sometimes happens next however is not expected. Perhaps because of the lack of preparation, you listen very carefully to the challenge and your brain goes into overload around critical questions, which in turn provides greater insight for you and for the client. One of the answers may trigger an opportunity to illustrate a previous situation where you solved a similar situation; another may give you an opportunity to run a scenario past the client, engaging them in finding a solution; another might even enable you to get to the heart of the issue in a way which the client has never heard before. And before you know it, an hour has passed, the client and you have enjoyed the interaction and there is a sense that you’ve started on the journey of responding to their needs. You’ve sold your services through intelligent questioning and careful engagement.
2) On another occasion, you’ve spent a week preparing with your colleagues. Every idea has been considered in detail, edited and critiqued very carefully. You’ve been rehearsing together for a least a couple of days, getting the transitions right, managing the interface between you and your colleagues, practicing hard to make the meeting look relaxed and freeform….and then the client kills your presentation with an innocent remark which effectively puts to bed the cornerstone in your presentation!!
Going on is not an option….but you’ve personally invested in the presentation to such an extent that you’re not willing to give it up. The client’s giving you all sorts of signals that he’s not interested in what you’re saying..but you’re not able to change tack. The meeting ends and as you walk out the door, there’s that sense of despair that the whole thing has been a disaster, from a promising prospect to a situation where no post rationalisation can really deal with your personal sense of a missed opportunity.
So what’s the lesson here? Not preparing? Clearly not. Whilst the adrenaline rush of turning up with no plan has its attractions, the risk of drying up is too great. But leaving some space up front to test your hypotheses, having enough information to fill the first 5 minutes with questions is probably always a good idea…as well as not over-investing in your own solution.

Categories: Change management, Consulting

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