Building a successful client-consultant relationship is a lot like moving from one home to the next.
I learned this during a recent move of my own. My family needed a new home, and while we were sad to leave our beloved neighbors, restaurants and walking routes, it was time for a change. Since purchasing the home four years ago, our family grew and what once worked now felt limiting and cramped. We wanted a space where we could watch our son play and explore while we cooked or entertained. What stood in our way were walls, antiquated electrical wiring, and dated décor.
We didn’t find the perfect home; instead, we found a project. And so began our first home renovation adventure. I quickly realized how similar renovating and moving was to my consultancy work at SingleStone, and that I was experiencing what it’s like to be the client in the consultant-client relationship. Here are some similarities I found:
Scoping, Scheduling, Budgeting
Consistent with how most consulting engagements begin, I was anxious with the investment but excited about what I was being promised at the finish line. Understanding my concern, our general contractor and I worked to nail down the details, timeline milestones and a compromise on specific high-dollar line items.
It’s core to successful consulting engagements that everyone feels invested, excited about the potential outcomes and committed to the details. Establishing a timeline with achievable milestones, paired with an agile mindset in regards to shifting to meet new deliverables, is key.
Simply put: sometimes, our clients just aren’t ready to change. In an ideal world, I’d have a checklist ready to address every possible question or scenario with our clients before a major project begins. While I’m getting better at this, there are times when my team can’t possibly anticipate all other factors that may impact our timeline.
I was that client. Neither I nor our general contractor was prepared for how overwhelmed I’d feel. Moving is stressful enough—tack on a ten-week renovation, a dog and a one-year-old, and it was more than I could handle. However, just like we remind our clients who seem hesitant about embracing change, I knew the time is now.
Communication is key and trust is everything
Any successful project relies on a client-consultant relationship rooted in communication, coaching, and navigation of the unknowns. While my panic wasn’t our contractor’s responsibility, it would (and did) make his job more challenging if not quickly dealt with.
In this relationship, proactive expectation-setting is paramount. I was desperate for an update and an understanding: how does week four fit into the bigger picture? Why is a giant hole cut into the ceiling? Where’s my sprint demo?!
What I lacked was an understanding of what I would get, when I would get it and how it all fit. One morning I woke up to a stranger at my door ready to rip out half of our floor—our contractor didn’t realize the flooring engineer was coming over and didn’t properly communicate expectations. Level setting and sharing the appropriate amount of detail, compared to alarmist communication, would have mitigated this entirely.
With clients, it’s vital to strike the balance between sharing versus protecting. A peaceful, trusted project relationship relies on airtight internal and external team alignment so that our clients don’t wake up to an unnecessary 7AM fire drill, but instead are debriefed with the successes and risks of that day.
“Change often involves loss. It’s not just the glorious, exciting upside.”
Whether it’s moving across town, adopting Agile for the first time or migrating to the cloud, it’s okay to mourn the loss of familiar behaviors as long as you look at the benefit of what you can be exposed to and lean in. I mourned our old home, routine and neighbors but eventually leaned into the challenge of a renovation, a fresh start, and the unknowns.
It’s our goal to better understand our clients’ vulnerabilities as well as where they’re headed so that through preparation, communication, and trust, SingleStone sets the stage for our clients to confidently own these moments, ask the right questions and adapt their skills. The time is now.
Want to hear how we do this through training? Reach out.
Author’s note: With the COVID-19 pandemic, everything these days is put into perspective. What I thought was overwhelming or challenging when I wrote this in February pales in comparison to the changes on the horizon for all of us today. Let’s look to one another, and opportunities to lean into that change, together.