I recently read 360 Leadership by John Maxwell on a flight to a client located in the Midwest. The book talks about how to lead from all levels within an organization and how to develop your power of influence. I began to draw a parallel to how consultants are expected to provide leadership, but frequently feel as though we have no power. I will debunk this theory and discuss how we as consultants can apply the power of influence and create the implied power that may be missing.
The power of influence is a key driver to ensure our clients are successful. Before we go any further; no, I am not talking about hypnosis or making clients quack like a duck when they hear the words project management. And I am not suggesting you influence clients to conform to so-called tried and tested methodologies because clients are not one size fits all. It’s about earning the trust and respect of our clients. It’s about taking the appropriate measures to ensure our recommendations are in the best interest of them, not us. This is how you build client relationships, and ultimately build your business.
I am a Senior Consultant at EPMA, and I am accountable for holding myself and my team to the highest standard of integrity possible. We focus on people, process, and technology, with client satisfaction being at the core of everything we do. Our non-traditional approach, combined with our strong core competencies, set us apart from our competitors. So, what makes a great consultant, and how can we build up the power of influence we have with our clients?
Influence through trust building
First, to build influence, we must demonstrate honesty, integrity, and respect. Think of a time when you may have been standing in line; whether it be at the airport or simply at your local coffee spot. A person cuts in front of you. Most of us would react negatively, “what does this bozo think they are doing cutting in front of me!” Not realizing that they have jumped in front of you; they quickly, sincerely apologize and say they didn’t see you and begin to get behind you. Now, at this point, you can tell they showed honesty, integrity, and respect for a being wrong. Do you make them get behind you or do you brush it off as an honest mistake and allow them to keep their place in line? I think most of us, would acknowledge the mistake but allow them to keep their place in line.
So how does this story relate to consulting? What would have happened if the person who cut you didn’t apologize or recognize that they cut the line? Would they be someone that you would want to do business with? Probably not, since this person showed a lack of respect and integrity for all the people in line. This is the same way of thinking our clients have when working with them.
We need to demonstrate honesty, respect, and integrity when holding status meetings and meetings working with all levels of personnel in the organization. If you don’t work this way, then the “lie” will only last so long before they know you haven’t been forthcoming. If you talk down to the employees in the client’s organization, they will become closed off and will talk badly behind your back. This will not only ruin your reputation but the reputation of your company.
These situations are bad for you and bad for business. It is important to be upfront with information and communicate issues as they arise. Waiting for the “right time” to communicate issues will only increase the impact on the project, as well as give a negative impression to the client because you waited so long. To increase your power of influence, the client will need to trust you, and the first step is to demonstrate honesty, integrity, and respect.
Listening To Solve Problems
Secondly, actively listening to the client’s needs shows them that we are engaged. Their opinions, however, skewed they may be, are important. Have you ever been in a meeting and felt like your ideas weren’t heard? That if only they would listen to you they would understand the problem? I know I have, and it can be very frustrating when you don’t feel like anyone is listening to you.
Dr. Ralph Nichols, a pioneer in the field of listening once said “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” As humans, we need to be heard because it triggers a part of our brain that says we are accepted, respected and valued. When we actively listen to the voices of our friends, colleagues, parents, and clients it sends a positive message to the receiving party; letting them know what they say is important.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and poured out your heart or business strategy out to them? Then days later you are following up with the person, and you have had to repeat everything you told them in the first conversation? How frustrated did you feel? I am sure that you felt that your thoughts may have been insignificant or that the person you were talking to did not have interest in what you were saying to begin with.
Now, put yourself in the client’s shoes. What if you were a client trying to explain your thoughts to a consultant that sat there shaking their head in agreement but wasn’t actively listening to you? I would assume that the respect level you would have for the consultant would diminish and that you would be less likely to be forthcoming with information in the next conversation. That consultant has now lost the power of influence, and it will be very unlikely that they would get that back.
Innovate a Custom Solution
Lastly, you need to suggest a realistic solution to their problems. The last thing a client is looking for is a cookie cutter solution to their problem. I am sure all of us can recall a time when we have gone to the doctor’s office after reading WebMD about a suggested medical condition and after the quick 15-minute, 5 questions, consultation is over the answer was just as described on the internet. For me at least, it makes me think, ” Why am I even paying this guy to give me an answer I have already found on my own?”
Now, on the flip side, you see a different physician for the same condition. They ask questions about how you’re feeling and listen to your concerns about what is going on with your body. When they offer the diagnosis, they tell you that you’re just a little stressed and that there is nothing to worry about. What WebMD and the first physician did was categorize your condition based on an algorithm that solved the majority of people with those symptoms. What they didn’t do was find the cause, which in turn gave us possibly an incorrect diagnosis/solution.
When we are working with a client, we need to ensure that the solution we are suggesting not only fits the needs of the client but that it is a realistic roadmap for their business. I have worked with clients that believe they know exactly what they need, and the first thought to myself is, “you don’t know, what you don’t know.”
Clients often start by trying to solve their problems on their own; either by searching the internet for solutions, reading books, or possibly they have tried other consultants that didn’t work out. So, we are walking into a situation where they may already have an idea as to what our solution should be. Here is the important part, it is our responsibility as consultants to bring visibility to the client and communicate our solutions to them in the most effective manner possible. The end goal or solution may be the same; just we guide them down the right path. We need to direct them along the way, step by step, using our power of influence to ensure they are set up for success.
Build trust, listen to their problems, and create a custom solution are three basic activities that we as consultants can do by using our power of influence to help our clients become successful. Happy consulting!