5 mistakes I have made

There’s an upcoming blog carnival on the theme of “mistakes consultants have made with their clients.” Another opportunity for us to walk our transparency talk. Can you just hear my enthusiasm?

We try not to make the same mistake twice, but we’re human, and we screw up. Among some of the ones I personally have made at least once over the years:

  • Not listening deeply. Sometimes the client can’t say exactly what they want, or what they want is not exactly what they say they want. The only antidotes to this are lots of back and forth about expectations and the precise scope of work, and active listening.
  • Not asking for honest feedback. Just cause you think everything is hunky dory doesn’t mean the client isn’t frustrated. Sometimes our clients are too gentle-hearted to take us to task without repeated asking on our part. It’s easy to let each other off the hook, but it ‘s not good for the relationship or the product.
  • Getting too involved -or- not getting involved enough. Our clients tend to come in two flavors: Some want us to tell them what to do and then help them do it (or even do it for them); others want us to maintain a respectable clinical distance, by giving our best advice and then letting them run with it. Many clients are hybrids — they want you as staff extension on some things and elder counsel on others. My own opinion is that getting this part wrong is the fastest way (other than missing deadlines) to wreck a consulting relationship.
  • Ignoring internal dynamics. Sometimes the only impediment to our clients’ greatness is how they are organized internally. Identifying and addressing internal disconnects is something we inevitably end up addressing. This has to be done with extraordinary delicacy — there is a world of difference between promoting inter-departmental communication and cooperation and getting involved in an organization’s office politics.
  • Not letting clients go when they have outgrown you. In old school consulting the idea was to turn everything you did into mumbo-jumbo and keep the client completely dependent (and a little confused) all the time. I know of very few consultants who operate that way anymore (actually I know of one and he knows who he is). But taking the consulting 2.0 approach — serving largely as a coach and a “know-how” transfer agent — means at some point many clients outgrow you. Letting them go is emotionally and financially difficult.

As I said, we try to learn from our mistakes. I can’t tell you if we’ve been successful at that — you’ll have to ask our clients!