Home > Managing Clients > “I did my job” – “Yeah, but we suck”

“I did my job” – “Yeah, but we suck”

It is inevitable that someone occupying my position is going to deal with escalated client issues from time to time.  To determine the root cause of the escalation, I spend a lot of time with staff, project management and their counterparts on the client’s side discussing what happened, when and why. I work very hard to be objective, non-threatening and non-defensive in these discussion.  But, what I notice is that I reach an inevitable stopping point where everyone gets to essentially the same comment, i.e.:  “I did my job”.  Maybe, but I’ve got a pissed off client who is not going to pay their bill.  Therefore, we didn’t get the job done and, therefore, we suck.

Here’s the most important things I think we can do to avoid this trap:

1. Relationship build:  As doctors can tell you, if your client likes you, you don’t get sued.  In our industry, having a strong personal relationship with a client almost guarantees a reduction in finger-pointing and a faster, quicker resolution to problems. At the end of the day, if you hit your targets (“I did my job”) but the client doesn’t like you, you’ll never see the client again (“You suck”).

2. Admit Mistakes, but Present Solutions:  Recently, I badly mis-scoped a BI project.  When it became apparent, I sat down with the two primary business owners for the project, admitted my mistake (“I suck”), told them how I was going to fix it, the financial ramification to them (in this case, none), and what I needed to help me hit the reset target.  Were they annoyed, yes.  Did we get the job done and are they a reference:  absolutely.  I didn’t say “Hey, I did my job”;  I admitted the mistake and told them how I’d fix it (“So we can suck less”).

2. The Scope, Only the Scope and Nothing But the Scope:  Immediately after taking over my current position, I had a conversation with two senior teammates about a significant client sat issue.  They told me that we had gone beyond the call of duty on multiple occasions to move the project along when the client wasn’t getting the work done. Therefore, we “did our job”.  Actually, what we did was enable continued poor delivery discipline for the client, spent their money in the form of project overruns without asking for permission, and stepped outside of our legal framework by delivering services for which they had not contracted (“We sucked”).  If you need to pick up a client’s slack, ALWAYS make certain you clearly advise them of the problem (“Your not getting things done”) and resolution (“I can do it for you for an extra $x”).

3. Don’t Hold the Grenade:  If you see something going wrong in a project, raise your hand.  If you are going to be late, let the team know.  If you don’t understand what you are doing, ask for help.   Whatever you do, don’t stay silent, burrow in or plow through since everyone around will assume everything is okay when its not.  Put simply, communicate, communicate, communicate.

4. Mistakes Don’t Mean You’re Bad, Just Human:  This is tough.  If the client is an ass, or your company’s culture doesn’t support learning from mistakes, admitting you made one can drop a world of hurt on your shoulders.  In the long run, acknowledging the mistake (or better, finding it and surfacing it yourself) then learning how not to make it in the future will increase your future performance (“10% less sucking this week and every week”).

5.  Lastly, Remember Why We Got Hired:  At the end of the day, the client doesn’t hire us because we know the technology.  The client hires us because they believe we will make their business life easier and more productive since they won’t need to worry about doing this project by themselves.  If, as consultants, we don’t constantly reinforce that feeling (and this is really what “Doing our job” means), then we will always suck.

  1. August 25, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    And in few cases it really means that you should fire the client and refer them to your competition, but most consultants suck at that too.

  2. August 28, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Well done Dwight. I’m thinking about slipping this under the door of a few folks who need to chew on this idea for a while. Thanks for the ‘cut to the chase’ message…as if I’d expect anything less from you.

  3. Lee House
    November 10, 2009 at 11:00 am

    You are spot on with this Dwight. This is applicable in so many facets of business. Accountability is such a scary word for people, they don’t realize that admitting fault is better than burying their head in the sand.

  1. August 25, 2009 at 4:45 pm
  2. August 26, 2009 at 8:08 am
  3. November 21, 2009 at 7:23 am

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