“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Strother Martin, Cool Hand Luke, 1967
Two weeks ago, Robert approached me for help with one of our engagements. He is providing field-level project management support for a forty-year-old construction company. It has been a successful engagement which has improved the productivity of the Principal. Robert has established a solid foundation of trust and has done a good job representing our brand. The client appreciates our work, but they are unclear about the next project. We are at an impasse.
There is a clear opportunity to expand this engagement and. The client wants our help, but they’re stuck. They cannot quite pull the trigger to expand the engagement. Robert has done an excellent job building the relationship, but cannot get them to the next level. Additionally, he is having difficulty managing other members of the team. He has become frustrated by communications between the other Partners and the client. Some of the discussions have bypassed Robert. This is clearly sub-optimal, creating confusion. It also violates our business model as all such communications should go through Robert, the Partner in Charge.
Robert called a meeting, which included me and the other two Partners. The objective was to get focused on the opportunity and develop a strategy to expand the engagement. Yesterday, we met together as a team.
Robert had three primary objectives for the meeting:
- Discovery: understand the opportunity to expand this engagement
- Local resources: who else could we bring in to help
- Understanding short-term wins and how to exploit them
The first agenda item was to understand the client’s culture; their goals and aspirations; and their management style. This company wants to grow. They have built forty years of goodwill, which is the basis for their marketing strategy. However, the recession had a major impact on the company. In many respects, they are relaunching the business. One thing is clear, they need a business development program. Without help, they will find it difficult to grow.
The client has three major objectives:
- Grow the business
- Enhance brand equity; Strengthen their strategic relationships
- Improve their productivity and operating effectiveness
Robert followed the client overview with a discussion on the communications protocol. He dispatched that issue, achieving alignment from the others. I reinforced the point, reminding them about our code of conduct.
Robert and his team came to the meeting prepared with an outline as to how each would approach the situation. I thought it somewhat amusing as all of the documents were typical corporate-style outlines with jargon unfamiliar to most entrepreneurs. I was beginning to understand that we own the communications problem. We are not speaking the client’s language, and we aren’t helping them with their decision. In other words, we need to make our case in very clear terms. I suggested that the team might better connect with the client if they translated their terminology into plain-speak.
I spent most of the meeting listening to the discussion, trying to understand everyone’s point of view. Like many smaller companies, planning is not a part of their culture. They are in a reactive mode dealing with the crisis “de jour.” They are victims of a time management. There is no doubt that we can help them, once we formulate a communications plan.
Toward the end of the meeting, I had an epiphany. I told Robert that I should write an article about the company. Telling the company’s story could serve as the foundation for their re-positioning. We could use the article to demonstrate our capabilities to our clients and prospects. I saw a clear opportunity for a win-win. This would give me an opportunity to become familiar with the client and establish a deeper rapport. Today, Robert told me that the client likes my idea and wants to move forward.
In conclusion, it might be cliche’ to say that a successful engagement depends on clear and effective communications. But, we cannot help them if we cannot make our case. We cannot make our case if we aren’t speaking the client’s language. We cannot speak their language until we know them well enough to develop empathy.
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Jim Weber, President
NEW CENTURY DYNAMICS EXECUTIVE SEARCH
Author of: Fighting Alligators: Job Search Strategy For The New Normal
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