Rule one for being a true partner to a client when you are a Consultant - understand your client and their people as well (if not better) than they do.
It might sound extreme but if you really don't understand what makes a client tick then you won't achieve the results they need from you. It's a vital part of any project and one that I believe is pivotal to a successful client relationship.
I've put together some simple steps below to allow you to 'dig for victory'.
Step One: Do your homework
You must understand what the organisation is working towards. What are their goals? How do they describe their culture? There are many more questions here (but we can't give away all of our secrets, can we?) that give me a deep understanding of the mission, purpose and values of the client. In short, it tells me how things are 'supposed to be'.
Step Two: Start digging
So, we've got an idea of how things are 'supposed to be' - we now need to look at people's reality. Values look great painted on a wall. Are they really alive and kicking at every level of the organisation? Or do your people experience a different version of reality?
We all need to develop empathy with the people we are looking to develop to find out 'how things are really done around here'.
What is the day to day reality for them and what would positively change that for them? It might be that there are some simple engagement techniques that could quickly show a dividend on your learning and development investment. How are the values and brand messages understood? How are they demonstrated? In fact, are they demonstrated at all? This is a time for honest conversations - and time to listen to reality, no matter how different that might be to what's on your website.
Step Three: Don't be precious
It doesn't matter what the client thinks. It doesn't matter what we think. What really matters is what your people think. They are the embodiment of your brand and the guardians of your brand message for your customers. If you want to positively influence their thinking then there's no room to be precious here.
If you want your message to stick then you need to listen to your people. Understand what ignites their passion for your brand. What gets them out of bed in the morning? What would bring the brand to life for them? What would it take to turn them into brand advocates? We've asked the questions and there might be some uncomfortable answers - use them to make things brilliant.
If you don't see the value of your employees being brand advocates - this article from Forbes might shed some light.
89% of companies now expect to compete primarily on the basis of the experience they provide to their customers. And in a business-to-business (B2B) Customer Experience study issued by Accenture, 86% of executives listed customer experience as a strategic initiative.
While this may not surprise you (you are reading a people engagement blog after all), these studies show that organisations across the globe are struggling to deliver on their customer experience initiatives. The reason? They might not really understand how their people embrace the brand.
Step Four: Understand the data
There. I said it. The 'D' word. We have employee engagement surveys, review sites, focus group summaries, stakeholder interviews, brand scores... all of this gives you the direction you need to start to facilitate change. Ratings and paperwork are not the be all and end all of great engagement but they are a starting point. It gives you a number or a score to measure improvement against. Use data wisely - remember statistics can always be presented in a number of ways!
Step Five: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
Your people have given you the answers. They have given you the direction. They are far more in touch with the day to day business than the senior team can ever be (senior teams reading this and disagreeing... go back to step three...). They know the work they are having to do, the processes they are having to work around, the everyday conversations they are having with your customers. Let's use the information we've got to unleash their potential - don't just write a report and leave it there.
These five steps are the best way to check that your project is hitting the mark for the people that will influence its success. Let's have an honest conversation right here.
'But Chris, clients just don't want to spend the money on it'.
Really? Maybe they just don't see the value. This is where our clients can step in as proof. They see the value in it and they see the outstanding results we achieve on the back of a deep immersion into their business. We learn their organisations language. We use it in our approach. We treat their people how they want to be treated. We deliver in a style they want.
Am I scared that other consultants will steal our approach? No. If they really believed in it they would already be doing it - and the really great consultants/agencies already are.