Posts tagged with jobs

Honesty

July 21st, 2010

There are three types of honesty. No honesty, good honesty and bad honesty. Now, consulting gets a bad press on the honesty stakes which is unfortunate really as most consultants I know are very honest people. Clever and cunning; yes but dishonest ? No. Well, most of the time they aren’t dishonest but some of them need to practise their art a little more with working the good honesty and bad honesty split. In business as in real life, the truth is often destructive and one of the consultant’s jobs is to feed the truth to the client in a non destructive way.

I’ve been witness to all three types of honesty and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt is that it’s much easier to do it wrong than to do it right. My favourite “no honesty“ example comes from a meeting I attended with a client and my manager. The client asked me if I had conducted an analysis of their data. Having just been drafted onto the project, I said no. My manager jumped in and “suggested” that “what I meant” was that I didn’t realise that a basic analysis had been started and they could have it by first thing tomorrow. What this actually translated to was “no one has done any analysis and now you’re going to spent all night doing it. Ha-ha.”  I was so affronted that I sat up all night writing this poem about my situation.

Same manager different project; we were sitting round the table over business lunch, discussing the development of the clients’ new portal. They had already questioned our ability to deliver the work and my manager was getting edgy at the thoughts of the precious moneys slipping away. “Look,” he spoke up “ XXX (ie: me) is a Subject Matter Expert. XXX led the development of this area on the last project and has had plenty of exposure to the tool.” Yes, by exposure you mean the consulting equivalent of trudging lost and weary through the windswept Arctic wastelands of the user-guides and IT help forums trying to find out how to do a simple one line derivation.

So, we sold the work on one big whopping lie around the fact that none of us even knew what the software was, never mind how to use it. I’ll be honest. You have to blag sometimes. The nature of the work means that any member of the client team could, at any time, ask you anything. We have to instill confidence in our clients as the worst reply to a question is that we don’t know (or worse, say nothing). We HAVE to answer the question and we have to craft our words in a careful enough way to provide a comprehensive answer without promising the world or sounding stupid.
There is a fine line, however, between being professionally vague and lying through your teeth. Blagging is fine when it’s some sort of high level management decision; “yes, we can help align your technical strategic objectives” as oppose to “yes, we have all the experience required to build your intranet portal.”

Honesty of any kind does foster respect. Upon starting my new project, my manager was very upfront with the client. He told them I was a junior consultant, I was still skilling up and not to expect the world. He illustrated impeccable management from there on; when he couldn’t do something he was open and truthful yet never disruptive. I picked up three little tricks to be honest yet careful.
The first is to make the spectator feel special no matter how bad the situation. We won’t meet the deadline? He told them, albeit in a softly-softly way. Instead of saying that he was clueless and holding off until another team member came back from annual leave, he explained the problem to the client and suggested that the delay came from finding someone who was skilled in this very specific problem whereas he spent time honing his SME knowledge in another area. The client was happy to accept the delay because they felt they were holding out to get the best service possible.
The second trick to good honesty is to never say no. “No” is a dirty word in consulting although it makes it harder to manage expectations. The same manager was under pressure from the client to make fundamental changes to the design. It would reap little reward for a huge overhead so he instead focused on the benefits to not changing the system. He didn’t ever mention a comparison between the two solutions or refuse to undertake the redesign – he just said that in his experience it was best practice to keep the original.
Lastly, make the client think of the idea themselves. If you have a hard message to deliver try and make it look as if the client realised this of their own deduction rather than having to deliver bad news. This takes more practice than the other two. Start by listing the obvious advantages or requirements of a solution. Tell the client they need a solution according to the requirements. Hopefully they’ll put two and two together and come up the solution you want them to (with a bit of coaxing). I’ve only seen this done once successfully and when it fails it makes a real mockery of everyone involved.

Managing client expectations is paramount to success. Lying isn’t managing expectations – it’s setting everyone up for a fall. With a bit of careful insight into human nature and a creative way with words you can actually have an honest career as a consultant. If you believe that, you believe anything.