Five powerhouse experts and one high-achieving team from the Expert Network took time to speak with us about their “secret sauce” for a smooth project process, outcomes that everyone is excited about, and lessons they’ve learned when engagements with clients have not panned out that way. From these conversations, three overarching “best practices” themes emerged from their collective wisdom: Do the Work on the Front End, Set the Relationship Terms and Expectations, and Tending to the Dynamics of the Partnership. We divided them into three blog posts, to be released monthly in August 2019, September 2019, and October 2019.
Before dipping into their advice, learn about the contributing Experts by clicking any of the names below:
In this final post of the Secret Sauce Series, we’re digging into some important practices throughout the engagement that help lead a project to a successful wrap-up. To get the engagement you’d like from your client and to keep the project timeline on track, try to become a positive, trustworthy, regular part of your client’s schedule once the project starts. Even if meetings are few and far between, try to keep the client informed with continuous updates at predictable times, in a predictable format.
Create a cadence of communications with an Engagement Plan
Maya Bugg shared that “[some] clients get anxious … they want to show that they are moving forward.” In response to this, you can share a project engagement plan to show them what is coming up, and when. The engagement plan should set a regular time for “cadence calls.” For Dr. Bugg, that means a succinct 30-minute progress call, and a regular time to review/troubleshoot deliverables together with the client. This is when she hears client concerns, questions, and ideas.
These routine check-ins are helpful for both the consultant and client. Rex values them as a way to “become an expected part of [the client’s] life” and says that his clients “look forward to meetings because they know it’s going to be a high value conversation, and they know I am prepared.” Lyman uses engagement plans as a personal “forcing mechanism” for staying on track.
Lyman also uses this time as a way to build a relationship with the client: “I bring energy, passion, and good nature to calls […] I want the conversation to be good no matter what. Even when I deliver bad news, I frame it in a way that is positive, constructive, and forward looking.”
In addition to using these calls as a progress check and general check-in, they can also be a time to revisit the scope of work. Our experts recommend revisiting the project plan frequently - monthly, or every meeting, depending on how often you speak with your client. EduDream, like Elana advises to cast the project plan as ongoing, not static. They continue to get clarity on the phases of work throughout the project, just in case there have been any changes--either internally at the organization or elsewhere.
Keep the structure of the meeting consistent
As you hit a routine meeting cadence, it is useful to also adopt a standard structure to guide your meeting times. Additionally, several of the consultants noted that they send detailed agendas at least 24 hours before each meeting. This practice allows all parties to enter the meeting time with a sense of the topics to be addressed, specific questions that may have arisen, and any facilitated exercises that may occur, thus maximizing the time spent together. Rex Varner often likes to have a visually consistent slide deck, even if there is not much to update the client on or discuss, because it bolsters a sense of continuity and context for busy clients.
To prepare for a regular meeting, you might:
Set the materials that you need the client to be looking into, or answering.
Be prepared with key questions for the client.
Choose exercises for collaborative work happening on the call. Exercises are great for dynamic answers or feedback, especially if you want to make sure you’re getting this information or insight in the correct time frame, and do not want to wait on your client
Create channels for regular feedback
In addition to regularly scheduled meetings, the most productive consulting arrangements also have a clear channel for regular feedback. In order to do this, a consultant may build it in to the check-in meeting agenda or sending draft deliverables along with a feedback survey. Maya attributes her successful engagements thus far to “getting feedback in a timely manner,” and therefore frequently nipping misunderstandings and dissatisfaction in the bud. The consultant should work in partnership with the client to establish these practices early on in the relationship; setting parameters for bidirectional feedback where appropriate. Additionally, getting feedback or input at each stage makes clients authentically engage in creation and ensures that you don’t go too far down the wrong path before course correcting.
Lyman Millard notes a modern adage, “Feedback is a gift, so be generous.” Lyman says that even when feedback is harsh, he looks for the truth in it, and thanks the client for it. After taking time to debrief with himself, he identifies the piece to take forward and apply. One client he mentioned felt spurned because they felt the report of their organization he provided them was something he “took off the shelf” - it wasn’t customized enough. For Lyman, the work product templates he has developed over time are central to his work, but he realized that he missed a key piece of data that they wanted to measure. Acknowledging his misstep, Lyman followed up with a promise and delivery of a product that took the custom data into account. In Lyman’s opinion, the worst case scenario is when a partner doesn’t feel they can express their critical feedback to you because it may not be heard, and after the project, the partner won’t recommend you to other potential clients.
Thank you for reading our first blog series! We’ll be back next month with a summary from our next expert community call about the challenges of growing your consulting business, and tactical approaches to overcoming them.