Win-Win Relationships with Consultants (and everyone else)

In my career I have had many experiences working with consulting firms and individuals and I have repeatedly witnessed some in my organization treating these relationships with a “they are only consultants” as is if they are slave labor, thus giving little or no respect. When pondering this type of behavior, my thoughts created many questions regarding the client-consultant relationship. Explore your relationships by reading on.

  • Why is it that people and organizations feel that they can “beat up” on the consultants? What kind of archaic and arcane thinking is that? What is it? It does not work and I propose requires more effort to work from this view. and delivers less than desirable results.
  • Are relationships with our vendors and partners one-sided? Is there give-and-take? Is there active listening going on? Do you agree that successful (productive) relationships are based on trust and a shared vision of the future? If so, these relationships take time and need to be developed just like any other.
  • If the first two bullets resonate, where to begin. What about the contractual agreement? Doesn’t this solidify details and expectations? If not, ask your consultant any flavor of the following:
    • “What is the definition of success? What would be the best, most ideal outcome for the project, or agreement, or contract?” After the agreement is signed and you begin the work, ask the question again, I guarantee you will get a more relaxed and beneficial answer. This is where the trust truly begins.
    • “How are you (the individual, not the company) measured for success? How will your boss, your company view success?”
    • “What has worked in the past? Tell me about the best customer you have worked with?”
  • Of equal importance and value and to make this a two-way conversation, the other side of asking your consultants all these questions, is for the consultant to clearly understand your responses to the same questions and clearly understand the goals.
  • Help them be the best they can be. Prior to engaging, the consultants presented a host of services/solutions to help you achieve your stated objectives; makes sense to put them in the best position to deliver – right?
  • Remove obstacles. Make it “easy” for them to deliver on their expertise. If they need another power cord, go get it, they need a database update, get it done, they need a decision, make it happen.
  • At the end of the day, the project or the agreement, if you have answered, and/or addressed the questions above, you will have developed a relationship that enables your consultant to succeed, and there success is your success!
  • In projects, while some elements are possibly subjective, items like time and budget should be well defined so there is no question and strict accountability can be put in place.
  • First impressions are real. Upon engaging in a new relationship with a consultant you are establishing the foundation for the future. Not only do first impressions represent a relationship between individuals, but also between individuals and organizations, or between organizations.
    • What kind of impact can a first impression have? I recall a particular experience in which I entered a corporate office of a prospective client and while awaiting for my appointment with a senior manager I observed and listened as the front-desk administrator had several in-person and over the phone engagements with co-workers where I heard at least twice some utterance similar to, “…they are only a consultant…”. That spoke volumes to me. I knew that this short-sighted perspective (BTW – this was reinforced when I met my contact) was not going to lead to a positive long-lasting relationship, and I was right as the work went away not too far into the future.
  • Getting to know each other. Remember when you moved in with your fiance, boyfriend, girlfriend, college roommate? Remember the awkwardness of learning when to use the bathroom, replacing grocery items, how loud to play music, etc. This was that “getting to know you” phase of a new relationship. Instead of experiencing these awkward activities, why not address both of your expectations, desires and requirements, etc. right from the start? If you sense that you are not on the same page, you have questions, you have doubts; don’t wait and engage right away in the dialog about concerns and questions. Add to this conversation the when and how to communicate (phone, email, meetings), introductions to others (who are the stakeholders)…. And, who is doing what; updating project plans, writing status reports, etc. How and what will be done when there is a disagreement and finally remembering to put the seat down (kidding on this last one!).

This all makes sense – right? If so, you are ready for a “win-win” relationship with your consultants.

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Filed under Business, Project Management

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